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As a former professional and volunteer lifeguard, Franswa Fernandez is no stranger to helping people in trouble on the water, but on that hot Saturday morning, he saved a life using a Pink Rescue Buoy that had been installed less than 16 hours before.

NSRI’s Drowning Prevention manager, Andrew Ingram, vividly remembers installing the Pink Rescue Buoy at Glencairn Beach in Simon’s Town in Cape Town on 21 January. “A gale-force southeaster was blowing that afternoon,” he recalls. Naturally this made securing the pole, signage and Pink Rescue Buoy a challenge, but, he adds, “I just had the feeling it needed to be done.”

Come Saturday morning, and the popular beach began filling up with people looking forward to an enjoyable morning in the sun and surf. One of them was Franswa Fernandez, who knows the beach well, and loves walking and swimming there. “We knew it was going to be a hot day,” he says, “so we got down to the beach early.” It was around 8am, and he and partner Alicia Adriaanse, decided to take a walk before swimming. “Normally we’d head left for our walk,” he says, “but that morning we went right.” After a while, the couple decided to head back, and it was then that Franswa noticed the rip current. “I was watching the people in the water, thinking this doesn’t look safe.”

Rip running like a steam train

Franswa’s intuition was spot on. Within seconds, he saw one of the youngsters being pulled out to sea in the rip which he describes as “running like a steam train”, and heard frantic cries for help: “My son! My son can’t swim!” Franswa, a former professional and volunteer lifeguard, immediately noticed something he hadn’t seen on Glencairn Beach before. Right there was a Pink Rescue Buoy. His experience kicked in; he grabbed the buoy and ran into the water. “I let the rip take me out to where the youngster was. I heard him call out, ‘Uncle, I am here!’”

The young man was panicking, Franswa recalls, but he did his best to help him stay calm and reassure him everything was going to be alright. Normally, the buoys are used as flotation devices, allowing casualties to hold on to them, while being pulled to safety, but the young man kept letting go of it because he kept wiping water from his face. “I didn’t want him to get pulled away from me,” Franswa explains, “so I decided to rescue swim him towards the rocks at Simon’s Town side of the beach.” This took about 20 minutes, but both Franswa and his casualty reached safety.

NSRI Station 10 (Simon’s Town) had been alerted to a drowning in progress and arrived on scene, but the casualty required no treatment. Naturally the young man’s parents were extremely grateful to Franswa for saving their son’s life.

Even though it’s been a while since Franswa has been involved in any form of lifesaving, his actions were instinctive. His father was a founding member of Pathfinders SLC, and he recalls that as a family they were always on the beach. He joined Alpha Surf Lifesaving Club as a qualified junior lifeguard after Pathfinders SLC disbanded and has since been a life member of Alpha. “I could almost hear my father’s voice that day,” Franswa says.

Franswa’s experience and fast action and the timely installation of the Pink Rescue Buoy saved a life. “I believe Andrew insisted that the buoy go up on the Friday,” Franswa says. The NSRI offers our grateful thanks to Franswa for going into the water without hesitation.

*The Pink Rescue Buoy installed at Glencairn was sponsored by South African flip-flop brand Plakkies that, together with Speedo, are donating funds from sales of merchandise to fund Pink Rescue Buoys. The NSRI thanks them for their continued support and partnership.

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