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Equipment failure and unfavourable conditions proved to be the perfect recipe for danger for a boat that launched near the Krom River mouth.

When eyewitnesses contacted the St Francis Bay duty crew about a boat that seemed to have capsized near the Krom River mouth, volunteers headed out to the scene. Three people appeared to be in the water.

“Chris Sparg, skipper of the boat Plane to Sea, and a long-time friend of NSRI, has told NSRI that he and his son Cameron, 30, and his daughter Courtney, 23, were returning from fishing, and had entered the Krom River mouth when they saw the casualty boat preparing to exit the to go out to sea with three crew onboard,” says Sara Smith, NSRI St Francis Bay station commander.

Chris noticed that the boat might have been headed for danger – large waves had started to form in its path. He tried to signal to the skipper to head in a different direction, as did a few people on the shore, but the boat still ventured out towards the waves.

It was later determined that the boat didn’t capsize, but swung wildly, throwing the three crew members out of the boat. It also appears that the engine kill switch must have failed. The kill switch acts as a backup in situations where the skipper becomes separated from the controls. It cuts off the boat’s engine immediately, and is tethered to the skipper either physically or electronically.

Once Chris had checked that the three men were okay, he turned his attention to the drifting boat. He feared that it might be heading towards the men, who at that stage were still in the water. He shouted at them to warn them to stay away – at one stage the runaway vessel narrowly missed hitting them!

Chris manoeuvred his boat alongside the moving casualty boat, skilfully rafting his boat against its hull. His son Cameron stepped across from his boat and boarded the casualty boat, taking control of the runaway vessel. Chris handed over control of his boat to his daughter and was able to establish a towline to the casualty boat.

Steering the runaway boat proved to be impossible for Cameron. It was later discovered that the steering rod had been bent – a lucky twist of fate because if the bent steering rod had not caused the engines to stick at a 10 degree angle the casualty boat, still under motor power, would have been turning around in much shorter circles and would likely have injured the three stricken men.

An unidentified kayaker was nearby and he stayed with the three casualties until more help arrived. James Moore, another local man, was fishing on the river when he saw the emergency unfolding. He donned a lifejacket, headed towards them, and managed to get them safely back to shore. None of them sustained any injuries.

By this stage, the NSRI rescue craft was approaching Chris and his kids. The towline was transferred to the NSRI and the NSRI rescue craft towed the casualty boat to shore.

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