At 12h53, Monday, 28 March, NSRI Simon's Town duty crew were activated following eye-witness reports of a surfski rolling in heavy surf approximately half a nautical mile off-shore and appearing to have no signs of any person or persons at the surfski.
Darren Zimmerman, NSRI Simon's Town station commander, said:
An NSRI member immediately responded to the shoreline to attempt to get eyes on the surfski while our duty crew responded to our NSRI Simon's Town rescue base to launch sea rescue craft. Our NSRI rescue vehicle was dispatched to Smitswinkel Bay shoreside.
The surfski community were alerted and they confirmed that a group of surfskiers had departed from Fish Hoek at 10h30 and were headed towards Buffels Bay with an estimated arrival time of 12h30. It was assumed that this unmanned surfski may be related to that group.
The sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski II was launched.
The EMS/AMS Skymed rescue helicopter was placed on alert by WC Government Health EMS Metro Control.
NSRI EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) received a call from an NSRI RSA SafeTRX user indicating a surfski that may be in distress but due to poor signal reception the call was dropped and could not be re-established.
On the initial rescue vehicle arriving at Smitswinkel Bay no sign of the surfski could be seen in a 30 knot off-shore wind, rough sea conditions with white horses cresting the heavy sea swells and deep gulley’s between the sea swells which hampered a search from the shoreline.
A searchline was established estimated to be between half a nautical mile off-shore of Smitswinkel Bay in a direct line towards Rooi Els. Based on the eye-witness account this was an estimated search line and the description provided by the eye-witness indicated that it may be a double surfski in question.
The initial call from the eye-witness was from an adult male, Chris Rumbell, but while establishing additional information it became apparent that it had actually been Chris and his 9 year old son Alex who had raised the alarm after together witnessing a red and white surfski appearing to be caught in the heavy sea swells and the gusting strong Westerly to South Westerly winds from their home at Smitswinkel Bay.
They were also continuing to try to re-establish a visual of the surfski.
An NSRI RSA SafeTRX beacon was then established by NSRI’s EOC duty controller and although no emergency alert was displayed the track was showing a slow drift of half a knot in the vicinity of Smitswinkel Bay and it was assumed that this may be the casualty surfski in question.
Our NSRI rescue vehicle arrived on the scene on the shoreline. We had established a command post high on a hill to enable as broad a search arc as possible using binoculars. Rescue personnel were scouring the ocean and our sea rescue craft had by that stage arrived in the search area and the crew onboard had initiated a search starting at ground zero being a half a nautical mile off-shore of Smitswinkel Bay but, in the heavy sea conditions, no sign of any casualty craft could be found.
By that stage surfskiers from the bunch of surfskiers who had been paddling from Fish Hoek to Buffels Bay reported 2 members of their group had not arrived as scheduled.
The eye-witnesses, Chris and his son Alex, were continuing to scour the ocean to try to re-establish a visual on the surfski when 9 year old Alex spotted the craft and talking to our duty commanders confirming that they had re-established visuals of the casualty. Although Chris could not see what his son Alex was seeing Alex talked to our rescue commander who relayed the information over VHF radio communications to our crew on the sea rescue craft guiding them towards the casualty craft.
Our NSRI crew confirmed that in the heavy sea conditions they only got an actual visual of the casualties when they were only a few boat lengths from them and only after seeing one of the casualties paddle raised in the air.
It turned out that one paddler had fallen out of his surfski multiple times. His paddling partner had assisted him back into the surfski a few times but eventually he rafted the 2 surfskis together to create a greater floating platform and they sat on the raft and drifted.
They had tried to activate their emergency NSRI RSA SafeTRX alert but had instead pressed the call button. That turned out to be the call they had made to NSRI’s EOC which had been dropped due to poor reception signal area.
The 2 surfskiers, local adult males, were rescued onto our sea rescue craft and their surfskis were recovered from the water.
They were brought to Millers Point where the sea rescue craft was met by CMR (Cape Medical Response) paramedics.
Following rewarming procedures for hypothermia they were released requiring no further medical care.
Chris Rumbell and his son Alex are commended for their efforts that contributed to lives being saved. The keen eye of Alex and his calm and commendable demeanour throughout the rescue operation, including talking us to the casualty craft in communications between him and the rescue command, against considerable odds, is applauded.
NSRI commend the surfskier who remained with his paddling partner, assisting him and rafting their surfski's together to create a greater floating platform for them to use.
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