Marc Rodgers, NSRI Plettenberg Bay station commander, said: At 13h22, Sunday, 15th December, NSRI Plettenberg Bay duty crew were activated following a request for assistance from an NSRI Plettenberg Bay crewman, one of 12 male Surf-skiers on an 18km downwind dash, from Plettenberg Bay to Natures Valley, reporting multiple Surf-skiers in difficulty at Natures Valley Beach.
The group of Surf-skiers had arrived off-shore of Natures Valley to find rough sea conditions, strong rip currents and increasing wind speeds estimated at 30 knots gusting to 35 knots making it difficult to get through the surfline to the beach.
The sea rescue craft Ray Farnham Rescuer and Leonard Smith Rescuer were launched and NSRI rescue swimmers, Natures Valley lifeguards and WC Government Health EMS responded to the scene and the EMS/AMS Skymed rescue helicopter was activated.
While responding to the scene it was confirmed that 5 surf skiers, 2 of them having lost their surf-ski’s, were reportedly caught in rip currents and were at the mercy of the sea.
Natures Valley lifeguard Chris Pannell had launched into the surf to assist.
When the sea rescue craft arrived on the scene the lifeguard in the surfline was picked up onto the sea rescue craft and a Surf-skier was located in the water without his Surf-ski approximately 500 meters off-shore and he was rescued onto the sea rescue craft. We believe his Surf-ski washed ashore.
The sea rescue craft then headed to beyond the backline where 3 Surf-skiers were still on their craft and one Surf-skier was found in the water and we believe his Surf-ski washed ashore.
We took the man in the water onto our sea rescue craft and initiated re-warming efforts as he was severely hypothermic.
We took one Surf-skier and his craft onto our sea rescue craft and brought that Surf-skier and his craft to shore and we also dropped off the first man that we rescued, dropping them off close to the beach and they waded ashore safely.
With the lifeguard still onboard our sea rescue craft, and assisting with the rescue, we returned to the backline and picked up the remaining 2 surf-skiers and their craft bringing them to shore, dropping them and the lifeguard off close to the beach, where they were met by 2 NSRI rescue swimmers with NSRI Pink Rescue Buoys, and by lifeguards, who had waded into the surf to assist them to the beach.
EMS paramedics, assisted by NSRI and by the lifeguards, medically checked on the wellbeing of the Surf-skiers who were now on the beach and they were all fine.
The decision was taken to transport the hypothermic patient to our sea rescue base. We continued with re-warming efforts, 2 of our rescuer crew buddy hugging the man to provide body heat to assist with the rewarming process, and by the time we reached our sea rescue base a significant improvement in the man’s condition was noted.
At our sea rescue base, following additional re-warming efforts, the man was fully recovered and his friends came to fetch him to take him home.
NSRI commend lifeguard Chris Pannell who launched into very rough seas to go to the aid of those in peril.
NSRI had conducted routine training with the lifeguards, including Chris, a week prior to this incident.
The unique circumstances around Plettenberg Bay coastline where rip-currents can sometimes prevent a rip-current casualty from getting back to shore, lifeguards are trained to alert NSRI before launching into the surf, launch into the surf with their Personal Protective Equipment and floatation rescue devices, and on reaching the casualty take the casualty to the backline and keeping them afloat at the backline until sea rescue craft arrive to assist.