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A med student narrowly escaped permanent disability after being rescued from the Bos 400 wreck near Sandy Bay.

When a 19-year-old med student decided to hike to the Bos 400 wreck at Maori Bay, south of Sandy Bay, with three friends, he certainly wasn’t expecting the adventure to end in hospital.

The hikers gained access to the wreck’s crane structure and were jumping off the structure into the water, according to Station 8 (Hout Bay) commander Spencer Oldham, whose crew responded to the call. “He landed badly and felt pain in his lower back area,” says Spencer. “His friends extricated him to the level rock area next to the wreck and then phoned NSRI.”

NSRI Station 2 (Bakoven) were initially alerted, but while preparing to launch, NSRI Station 8 duty crew, who had earlier launched to assist at a sinking fishing vessel, were activated to assist as their response time would be quicker.

bos 400 rescue

“Our standard operating procedure for these types of calls is to attend the scene with a paramedic and then determine the level and mechanism of injury, stabilise the casualty – if a spinal injury is suspected, we conduct a full spinal immobilisation on the patient – and then extract and recover to base. Our first prize of extraction would be to airlift the packaged casualty, but that was not possible in this case; the EMS/AMS Skymed rescue helicopter was not available as they were committed to an inland operation. So another rescue vessel was dispatched from Station 8, accompanied by EMS rescue paramedics, to the rescue site.”

The student was stabilised and secured to a specialised stretcher and floated to an NSRI rescue craft, where he was able to be transported to Station 8, and the hospital thereafter.

His injuries included a fractured coccyx, though luckily his injuries were not permanent: he is able to walk and has returned to his studies with plenty of painkillers. He was incredibly lucky.

“There have been many incidents of injuries at the BOS 400 over the years,” says Spencer.

The BOS 400, a French barge, ran aground during a storm while being towed by the Russian tugboat Tigr in 1994, on the same site as an earlier wreck, that of the SS Oakburn, a British cargo steamer. There are also several other wrecks in the wider area.

“The water around the BOS 400 wreck is at maximum 20 metres deep,” says Spencer. “The helipad and superstructure of the BOS 400 broke off early in September 2010; these have corroded over the years and now pose a hazard in the form of rusted metal which lies just below the surface of the water. The superstructure is breaking down and has been observed to move around with the currents and winter storm sets, so if it is observed in one position, the chances are it has moved since the previous year. Due to the kelp beds and underlying rock structure, it is extremely difficult to see the metal under the water from the crane, so when people jump off the crane in the water, they are risking serious injury.”

The majority of injuries are back injuries, with people either slipping down the steep rocky embankment and hitting the rocks below, says Spencer, or from jumping off the crane arm into the water and landing badly. The people in the water are then generally dragged back onto the rocks by their friends, worsening the casualties’ condition or causing further injuries. Other types of injuries, among many, include cardiac tamponade (pressure on the heart), bone fractures and concussion.

“The wreck is a generally difficult area to access as it requires a long hike from either Hout Bay over the back of Hangberg, or hiking from Sandy Bay along the coast. We have actually rescued more hikers from that area that have gotten lost in the rabbit warrens of pathways through the fynbos, and have ended up at the BOS 400 rocks extremely dehydrated, than we have actually extricated injured patients from the wreck.

bos 400 wreck
Bos 400 wreck

“That coastline is notoriously dangerous for hikers that are not prepared and often groups of hikers get stranded by the tide, without the proper clothing or enough water, and become dehydrated and hypothermic. The extraction options usually involve sending in a WASAR [water search and rescue] team to extract via hiking back over the mountains, or via sea. There are guided tours to the wreck site – or, at least there used to be. We have rescued one or two of these guided tour groups over the years from the area, either due to dehydration, or a member of the tour party has injured themselves and could not go on with the hike.”

Spencer appeals to the public to avoid the Bos 400 wreck. “This wreck is extremely dangerous to access. Rather just avoid it altogether.”

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