On Saturday, 23 October, NSRI St Lucia crew arrived at Cape Vidal parking area at 06h40 for routine training.
Clyde Coetser, NSRI St Lucia training officer, said:
While preparing to initiate routine training exercises we noticed a group of people gathered on the shore and kayakers in the surf behind the backline breakers.
Surf conditions were rough with a gusting 10 to 12 knot wind and an approaching low tide. Under these conditions rip currents in this particular area are known to be swift.
Immediately concerns were raised as our NSRI crew began to assess, in these conditions, how the kayakers would get to shore and what line should they should be navigating as the safest route to shore in the prevailing conditions.
As we arrived on the beach we were immediately approached by some public members who had earlier been kayaking at sea. They requested urgent assistance pointing to three of their kayaker friends capsized behind backline and reporting more kayakers at sea paddling in an event and expected to arrive off-shore in due course.
Our NSRI crew that were there for training, realising that potentially a full scale rescue operation was fast developing, sprang into action while dispatched an emergency message to our duty crew at St Lucia and to the NSRI EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) to activate all available crew and resources.
We immediately noticed one of the 3 kayakers was close to rocks with a broken paddle while the 2 remaining kayakers were further out to sea.
While additional sea rescue crew responded to Cape Vidal we launched our sea rescue craft, Rescue 40 Alpha,
The kayaker closest to the rocks was rescued first and finding him to be injured we brought him to the beach where medical treatment was rendered.
We re-launched Rescue 40 Alpha and on arriving at the remaining 2 kayakers they were assisted safely to shore.
By that stage sea conditions had gradually worsened with a strong North Westerly wind, 1.5 to 2 meter swells, and strong rip currents.
Additional NSRI duty crew were arriving on the beach by that time.
Rescue 40 Alpha was re-launched and an additional 7 kayakers were assisted to the shore.
Reports of additional kayakers still at sea and paddling towards Cape Vidal were confirmed and NSRI crew spread out to attempt to spot the kayakers still at sea to see if any appeared to be in difficulty.
Rescue 40 Alpha re-launched to meet up with kayakers arriving at the backline to guide them to a safer line to the beach, which we had established, and these kayakers were directed to approach the beach on that safer established line of approach.
Because the approaching kayakers could not properly see the beach or the rocks, because of the sea swell, they were guided to approach the shore through the safer established line.
During this time 3 of the kayakers got into difficulty about 600 meters North of the Bay.
Our sea rescue vehicle was dispatched to that shoreline.
Two kayakers came over The Ledge and reached the shore safely while one of the kayakers got into a situation that caused us concern as he was too close to the rocks.
An NSRI rescue swimmer took an NSRI Pink Rescue Buoy and assisted that kayaker off the rocks and he was safely ashore.
The kayaker who had earlier been injured and who was in the care of NSRI medics was transported to the car park where a Netcare 911 ambulance that had been summoned was standing by.
It was deemed necessary for the patient to be transported to an emergency room and a Netcare 911 HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) was dispatched while the patient was transported by ambulance to St Lucia.
NSRI crew assisted to establish a landing zone at St Lucia and on the arrival of the Netcare 911 helicopter the patient was taken into the care of the Netcare 911 helicopter paramedics and he was airlifted to a hospital in a stable condition.
At Cape Vidal all kayakers were by now safely on the shore. A number of the kayakers were treated for minor cuts and bruises.
6 kayaks that were still afloat at sea after their occupants had swum to shore were collected by our sea rescue craft and returned to their owners.
In total 20 kayakers, aged between 18 and 45, had been assisted.
NSRI thanked the Georgio family, in St Lucia, who allowed their garden to be used as a landing zone for the helicopter and we commend Netcare 911 for their swift medical assistance.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is the charity organisation that saves lives on South African waters – both coastal and inland. Our goal is to prevent drowning through rescue operations, education and prevention initiatives.
Operating from base stations along the SA coastline, and on inland dams, our rescue volunteers are on call, at all hours, every day of the year. Our rescue crew receives no payment and neither do we charge the people we rescue.
We visit schools around the country, teaching children about water safety. Our drowning prevention measures include our online training academy, with free courses for crew and the public, emergency signage, Pink Rescue Buoys for emergency flotation, rescue swimmers, lifeguards, and active patrols during peak seasons.
Our organisation is totally reliant on donations and sponsorships. This enables us to do the work of saving lives, changing lives, and creating futures.
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