NSRI St Francis Bay duty crew were activated following multiple eye-witness reports of a boat that appeared to capsize off-shore of the Krom River Mouth with 3 male casualties reported to be in the water.
Sarah Smith, NSRI St Francis Bay station commander, said:
Our NSRI duty crew responded to our NSRI St Francis Bay rescue base and the sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II was launched.
NSRI rescue swimmers and shore crew responded directly to the Krom River Mouth.
While responding to the scene it was reported by eye-witnesses that a man on a sea-kayak was attempting to assist the 3 casualties who were in the water.
Then a VHF marine radio communication was received from the local Sea Cat ski-boat, Plane to Sea, with the skipper informing Port Control - Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and NSRI that they had the casualty boat under tow behind the breaker line.
On the NSRI shore crew arriving on the scene the 3 male casualties and the man on the sea-kayak were found to be safely ashore and they were not injured.
Our NSRI rescue craft arrived on the scene and found the boat Plane to Sea had successfully taken the casualty boat under tow and they were a safe distance behind the back wave line breakers.
The tow-line between the casualty boat and ski-boat Plane to Sea was bow to bow but an additional tow-line had been established on the casualty boat which enabled our NSRI crew to swiftly take over the tow of the casualty boat.
The casualty boat was towed to shore without incident.
Chris Sparg, 54, skipper of Plane to Sea, a long time friend of NSRI and who is also an aircraft pilot, has told NSRI that he and his son Cameron, 30, and his daughter Courtney, 23, were returning from fishing, they entered the Krom River Mouth when they saw the casualty boat preparing to exit the Krom River Mouth to go to sea with 3 crew onboard.
It was later determined that the skipper of the casualty boat had dropped off 2 children from his boat before making the attempt to go to sea.
While watching the casualty boat going out of the Mouth it appeared that they may have been heading in a direction into danger - a large set of 6 waves, arguably the largest set of the day, had started to form, in the incoming Spring tide, and the casualty boat was heading in a direction towards that set of waves.
Attempts were made by Chris, and by people on the shore, to try to indicate to the skipper of the casualty boat, using hand signals, to head in a left direction, away from that forming wave set, in efforts to point them to follow a safer direction out of the river mouth.
By that stage the casualty boat was in that set of waves and the casualty skipper had no choice but to remain on that line heading, with the bow of his boat on a heading into the waves, to approach the incoming set of waves head on.
Despite relatively calm seas, in the incoming Spring tide, the casualty boat appeared to falter in at least the first 3 waves of that large wave set before the boat was airborne over the peak of the next wave.
To the people watching from the shoreline the casualty boat appeared to capsize and then to self right.
It was later determined that the boat did not capsize but swung wildly to one side as it traversed over that fourth wave, throwing the 3 men out of the boat, before their boat continued underway.
It appears that the kill switch may have failed to activate.
In that moment all 3 of the male casualty crew, wearing life-jackets, were thrown out of the boat.
We believe that the kill switch of the casualty boat (which would normally stop the engines in a situation like this) failed to activate and the casualty boat continued underway without her 3 crew onboard - who were now in the water.
All 3 crew of the boat Plane to Sea, Chris, Cameron and Courtney, prepared themselves to go to the rescue of the 3 men.
They donned their life-jackets and with Chris heading his boat Plane to Sea back out of the river mouth they headed in the direction of the unfolding emergency heading to go to the assistance of the 3 casualties.
An unidentified man on a sea-kayak was also nearby at the time and he was attempting to assist the 3 casualties and he was checking that they were okay and that they were not injured.
Chris noticed that the casualty boat, still underway under motor power, had gently turned around and was headed straight back in a direction towards the 3 male casualties who were in the water.
(It was later determined that the steering rod had bent slightly causing the outboard engines to stick at about a 10 degree angle. With hindsight this was itself remarkable because if the bent steering rod had not caused the engines to stick at that 10 degree angle the casualty boat, still under motor power, after the kill switch appeared to fail, the casualty boat would have instead been turning around in much shorter circles in amongst the 3 male casualties who were in the water - the degree of angle that the outboard motors were stuck in caused the casualty boat to instead turn around slowly and in much wider arcs - this turned out to be for the best).
Fearing that the 3 men in the water would be run over by their casualty boat Chris shouted at them to swim away. The unmanned casualty boat drove on a path through the 3 casualties who were in the water. Their casualty boat narrowly missed them.
The casualty boat had again slowly turned around and was again heading straight back towards the 3 casualties who were in the water.
Arriving on the scene Chris first checked on the 3 casualties and realising that they were not injured, and that all 3 were wearing life jackets, within a split second Chris made the decision to instead of trying to rescue the 3 casualties from the water, and risking getting in the harms way of the casualty boat that was bearing down on them, to instead intervene by attempting to put his son onto the moving casualty boat to try take over the helm of the casualty boat to try to stop the casualty boat.
Chris manoeuvred his boat Plane to Sea alongside the moving casualty boat skilfully rafting his boat against the hull of the moving casualty boat.
At this stage they were just inside of the outer breaking wave line and with a calculated risk Cameron, holding onto his boats canopy railing, stepped across from his boat and boarded the casualty boat and Cameron took command of the casualty boat bringing the gear lever to neutral bringing the casualty boat to a halt.
Chris grabbed a rope line and established a towline from his bow after instructing his daughter Courtney to take over the helm of his boat.
Cameron had attempted to re-engage motor power of the casualty boat to steer the boat out of the breaking wave line and out of danger when it was realised that the steering was not working and the boat was unable to be steered (later determined to be caused by the steering rod that had slightly bent).
To try to escape the wave line Cameron engaged forward thrust followed by reverse thrust a number of times, in an effort to use the 10 degree angle of the outboard motors to steer the boat out of the back breaking wave line using the alternative forward and reverse thrust in succession.
These efforts narrowly brought the casualty boat to a small distance out of the back breaking wave line
Between Chris and Cameron the towline was fastened from the bow of Plane to Sea to the bow of the casualty boat and Chris instructed his daughter Courtney to engage his boat in reverse thrust in an effort to tow the casualty boat further out to sea and away from the danger of the back breaking wave line.
While Courtney helmed Plane to Sea, towing the casualty boat further out to sea in reverse, Chris stood by at the bow of Plane to Sea with a bait knife at the ready in case he had to cut the towline if a wave hade threatened them in those few moments.
Once in deeper water and out of danger Chris looked out for the 3 male casualties and he noticed that they were now ashore and they were safe and out of danger.
The 3 casualties, after falling out of their boat, while they were in the water they had been hit by the next large wave but they had then drifted, in their life jackets, towards the centre channel and into calmer waters.
With the unidentified man on the sea-kayak staying with them but unable to do too much to help them other than to make sure that they were okay, floating in their life-jackets and adrift, and not injured, the 3 men were gradually trying to swim towards the shore.
It was later determined that local man James Moore had then launched his son's small boat, with a 15 horse power motor, and he had rescued the 3 men in the channel and brought them safely to shore.
James Moore told NSRI that he and his 2 son's were fishing on the river when he saw the emergency unfolding. Fearing that the 3 men may be injured, while his wife called NSRI to raise the alarm, James donned his son's life jacket and took their small boat out through the channel and he successfully rescued the 3 men.
At that stage, Chris, with himself and Courtney on his boat Plane to Sea and with Cameron still on the casualty boat, which they now had safely under tow, albeit bow to bow, Chris then got onto his VHF marine radio and called for TNPA Port Control requesting NSRI's assistance. He then noticed that the NSRI rescue craft was approaching them.
On the NSRI sea rescue craft arriving on the scene the towline was transferred to the NSRI and the NSRI rescue craft towed the casualty boat to shore.
NSRI commend ski-boat Plane to Sea skipper Chris Sparg, and his crew Cameron and Courtney, for their remarkable efforts that averted a disaster at sea.
NSRI commend the unidentified man on the sea-kayak who had checked on the casualties and stayed near to them for safety while they were drifting.
NSRI commend James Moore for successfully rescuing the 3 men from the water.
NSRI has also commended the 3 casualties, two aged 41 and one aged 40, from Port Elizabeth, for their attention to safety, wearing properly fitting and properly fastened life-jackets and the skipper, despite what has happened, who had stayed on the chosen line approach to the incoming wave set rather than trying to turn in that unfortunate moment when the largest set of 6 waves, in the incoming Spring tide, peaked at that moment that they were heading out to sea.
Our NSRI St Francis Bay crew are commended for the swift response.
The multiple eye-witnesses are commended for raising the alarm.
NSRI assisted the 3 men to recover their boat onto a trailer and it appears that the casualty boat has suffered only minimal damage.
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