Fisherman rescued at Gwaing River Mouth, Pacaltsdorp, near Herold’s Bay, Southern Cape
A fisherman was rescued at the Gwaing River Mouth, Pacaltsdorp near Herold’s Bay in the Southern Cape on Tuesday, 9 March 2021. At 18h54, NSRI Station 23 Wilderness duty crew were activated following reports of a drowning in progress at the Gwaing River Mouth. “We received a call from the Police Dive Unit,” said Garth Dominy, NSRI Wilderness station commander. Their quick thinking to call NSRI was probably the first of a number of factors that contributed to the life of a local man being saved. Sunset was due at 18h54, the same time that we got the initial call and we knew that this was going to be a race against time, said Dominy.
Jan Oosthuizen, aged 59, from George, had at 18h00 told his neighbours that he was going fishing. He had walked down the hill where he was then angling from the rocks, East of Gwaing River Mouth. At around 18h30 he was swept off the rocks into the sea by a wave that swept over him. Bystanders, other fishermen that were also fishing in that area, who had witnessed him being swept off the rocks, some had gone to the edge of the steep rocks to try to help him but the rocky and steep coastline prevented him from being able to get back onto the rocks and he was being engulfed by breaking waves and strong currents.
With no cell coverage at that area, others had gone to find a cell phone signal so that they could raise the alarm and some men had gone to fetch their vehicle to drive to where the casualty is staying, at Gwaing River Mouth, to alert his wife.
The first call NSRI received from the Police Dive Unit only indicated to us that there was a person drowning in the vicinity of the Gwaing River Mouth. Some of the NSRI Wilderness duty crew responded to the sea rescue station in Wilderness and took the sea rescue vehicle to respond to the scene.
NSRI rescue swimmers responded directly to Gwaing River Mouth.
A few of the NSRI rescue crew responded to a garage that was recently donated to NSRI Wilderness, a garage at Herold’s Bay, where they have a 4,2 metre rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) sea rescue craft Oscars Rescuer housed in that garage and the NSRI rescuers prepared to launch the sea rescue craft.
George Fire and Rescue Services, the SA Police Services and a Western Cape Government Health EMS rescue squad also responded.
The Police Dive Unit, who had earlier received the first call from the Pacaltsdorp Police station, remained on alert. Despite rapidly fading light, two of the sea rescue crew, senior coxswain Ian Gerber and trainee coxswain Bryce Conlon, launched Oscars Rescuer at Herold’s Bay Beach and they cautiously headed around the Point towards the Gwaing River Mouth but staying well away from the coastline because darkness was already hampering their ability to physically make out the coastline with its steep jagged rocky outcrops and multiple gulleys that cause swirling currents around that dangerous area.
At that stage the duty controllers were receiving additional information from eye-witnesses indicating that an adult male was in the water East of the Gwaing River Mouth and this new information confirmed to our responding resources that the incident is more likely in the area of Hansmoeskraal.
With limited VHF marine radio reception and limited cell phone signal in that area the responding rescue resources were using a combination of WhatsApp messages, cell phone calls and VHF marine radio messages to communicate between each other, taking into account that the roads leading to where the incident was are narrow and where the roads reach a dead end there are foot paths that need to be used to get to the staging area on the shore of the barely accessible terrain.
The land rescue party, made up of NSRI crew, Police officers, fire and rescue services officers and Metro Rescue members, were directed to head towards the closest access point which was a dead end road with a footpath on the hill that leads down to the area where the incident was taking place.
Because the 4,2 metre sea rescue craft, Oscars Rescuer, was now operating in the dark, along a jagged, rocky and dangerous coastline, in two metre sea swells with confused sea conditions and strong currents, NSRI Mossel Bay were also activated as back-up.
NSRI Mossel Bay duty crew were at their sea rescue station at the time conducting routine training, so they immediately launched their deep sea rescue craft Rescue 15 to start to respond to act as back-up to the sea rescue craft that was already on the scene. Shore crew, who had by that stage reached the fishermen who were on the shoreline, found that these fishermen were using torches to shine their torch light onto the casualty.
The casualty was treading water to stay afloat and he was about 30 to 50 metres from the rocky shoreline. The rescue party who had arrived there had also started to shine their torch lights at the casualty and fearing that the casualty could be smashed against the rocks he was encouraged, by the people on the shore, to swim away from the rocks and further out to sea. They shouted to him to tell him that a sea rescue craft is responding.
A public member helped to launch the sea rescue craft in Herold’s Bay, said NSRI coxswain Ian Gerber.
“At first it had not been clear exactly where the casualty was but we knew we had to launch the rescue boat from Herold’s Bay as quickly as possible if we wanted to use the last of any available daylight to reach the casualty who we believed was in the vicinity of the Gwaing River Mouth.”
“Once we came around the Point the last of the light was fading fast but we noticed the blue flashing lights of the Police patrol van and the red flashing lights of the fire engine up on the hill and we used those flashing emergency lights to give myself and Bryce a reference as to how far we were from the shoreline because by that stage we actually could no longer see the shoreline clearly. We were always mindful to negotiate the breaking swells and strong currents that make that particular area so dangerous to operate in even when it is daylight. So we knew we had our hands full.”
“We also had to use both our VHF radio communications and we had to watch the incoming messages on our emergency WhatsApp group to give us an indication of where the casualty actually was. By that stage our rescue crew that were on the rocks gave us the first clear indication of where the casualty was in reference to the coastline and we headed towards that area.”
“Very carefully we came into the breaking wave line a number of times before we caught the first glimpse of the casualty from all of the torch lights that were shining onto him. We timed the incoming swells and the breaking surf eventually seeing a gap in the swells that gave us the opportunity that we were looking for and we raced in towards the casualty.
“On reaching him we pulled him onboard our sea rescue craft and without any hesitation we headed straight out to sea and away from the danger zone. It was now completely dark and NSRI crew, EMS Metro Rescue and the EMS ambulance all responded to meet us at Herold’s Bay”, said Ian.
“Illuminating flares were also organised and our shore crew were trying to arrange vehicles to respond to Herold’s Bay; these efforts were to light up the coastline to aid the crew on the sea rescue craft with visual reference to the coastline as they came towards Herold’s Bay Beach. But we were too quick, said Ian, and in the end we used the lights of the houses at Herold’s Bay and my own car which still had the hazard lights flashing and we used those as a reference to get our sea rescue craft safely to shore but it was challenging.”
“Jan was hypothermic but he was alert and safe. He was brought to shore where the sea rescue craft beached without incident and paramedics then medically checked on Jan and although he was cold he was not injured. His wife arrived and it was a warm reunion. All that matters,” said Mike Vonk, NSRI Wilderness deputy station commander, “is that he is safe.”
“The Herold’s Bay garage that was recently donated to NSRI, that houses our sea rescue craft Oscars Rescuer, was just another one of a whole series of factors that contributed to this successful rescue and the Herold’s Bay community members who made this possible are commended.”
NSRI spoke to Jan the next morning and he said he woke up feeling like he had just run a marathon. But he was in good spirits and he expressed his thanks to all the rescue services involved. He said when the wave washed him over the edge of the rocks only his shoulder got bruised against rocks and he dislocated a finger but the force of the wave pushed him so far under water that it became dark and with all his will he managed to surface and take a breath before the next wave washed over him repeating the sequence and forcing him under water. As if I was in a washing machine, he said.
When he surfaced the second time he first tried to get back to shore but realised he may get swept against the rocks but he stayed calm and focused on treading water and staying afloat and also lying on his back to stay afloat. He grew up in the area and as a youngster he often swam, fished and dived in the same area and he is confident that this contributed to him staying calm because he knows the coastline so well.
Fellow fisherman on the shoreline tied about five or six coke bottles together and they threw the floating bottles to Jan and he used these sealed empty coke bottles to give himself some form of floatation and that might have been the ultimate factor that contributed to his life being saved. To rest he floated on his back but the foam on the water, caused by the wave action and plankton in the water, was about a foot deep, which hampered his efforts to breath when he lay on his back. He was also concerned that floating in the foam would make it harder for him to be seen by any rescue effort.
It gave him confidence when his fellow fishermen shone their torch lights at him and his confidence was further boosted when he saw the blue and red emergency flashing lights, said Jan. He was almost disbelieving when the rescue craft appeared out of the dark and he finally felt safe once onboard the sea rescue craft.
NSRI commend the fishermen on the shore for their quick thinking. We commend Jan for his calm approach to the dire circumstances he found himself facing.
We commend the Police Dive Unit who alerted NSRI immediately after they received the alert and we commend the swift response and guts of NSRI's Ian and Jayce on the sea rescue craft Oscars Rescuer.
NSRI around the country are focused on drowning prevention and all of our fellow emergency services, local authorities and NPOs are joining our drive.
Everything from teaching children safety around water, teaching children survival swimming, the Education Departments that are allowing NSRI to teach safety around water in school classrooms. Strategically placing NSRI pink rescue buoys along the coastline and at inland water ways. The NSRI RSA SafeTrx cell phone app. The collaboration forged between all of the emergency services responsible to respond to water related emergencies around the country, to name only a few of our extensive efforts being deployed to promote drowning prevention ad water safety.
And in this case, a collaboration between public members who have donated a garage at Herold’s Bay and NSRI Wilderness, which gives NSRI the benefit of having a sea rescue craft strategically placed close to where there's a hot spot where a number of sea accidents are known to occur.
All of these combined efforts, aimed to prevent drowning accidents around the coastline and on inland waters, is a sign that what we are focused on is working, said Andrew Ingram, NSRI Acting Director Drowning Prevention.
Source: National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI)