Patient evacuation off Durban coast
National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Durban duty crew and Netcare 911 ambulance services were placed on alert for a pending mission to patient evacuate an ill sailor suffering a medical condition (not COVID-19 related) off a bulk carrier motor vessel approaching Durban at 11h57, Wednesday, 6 May 2020, Jonathan Kellerman, NSRI Durban station commander said. At 12h45 a South African Air Force (SAAF) 15 Squadron Oryx helicopter, a ShipsMed doctor, Netcare 911 rescue paramedics and NSRI Durban rescue swimmers were activated and preparations, including Port Health Authority authorisations, were set in motion. The SAAF 15 Squadron Oryx helicopter, carrying two SAAF pilots, a SAAF flight engineer, two Netcare 911 rescue paramedics, a ShipsMed doctor and two NSRI rescue swimmers rendezvoused with the ship seven nautical miles off-shore of Park Rynie, KZN South Coast. A rescue swimmer, the doctor and a rescue paramedic were winch hoisted from the helicopter onto the ship and the doctor and the rescue paramedic took over medical care of the patient, a 43 year old Filipino sailor, from the ships medical crew.
A second rescue paramedic was winch hoisted onto the ship with a Stokes basket stretcher and the patient, in a serious but stable condition, was secured into the stretcher and winch hoisted with one of the rescue paramedics into the helicopter.
The remaining rescue crew were winch hoisted into the helicopter and in the care of the doctor and the two rescue paramedics, who continued with medical treatment to the patient in the helicopter, the patient was airlifted directly to a Durban hospital and he has been taken into the care of hospital staff.
All COVID-19 precautions and protocols were observed during the operation. NSRI Emergency Operations Centre, Telkom Maritime Radio Services, Western Cape Government Health EMS, Netcare 911 ambulance services, ShipsMed, Transnet National Ports Authority and Port Health Authorities assisted Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in communications, coordination and logistics during the operation. The operation completed at 17h20.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said special precaution to cover the patient in COVID-19 protective gear was taken, although the symptoms displayed by the patient were said to be of malaria.
The Chief of the SA Air Force congratulated 15 Squadron on a successful mission.
SAAF helicopters have carried out several rescues this year. In January, an Oryx was used to rescue n injured man who fell down a 100 metre cliff near Pietermaritzburg and earlier that month an Oryx, supported by a BK 117, was used to medically evacuate five sick crewmembers from a vessel off the Durban coast. 15 Squadron was in action again in April, evacuating a sick patient off the Queen Mary 2 passenger liner off the Eastern Cape coast. In February, an Oryx from Air Force Base Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron was part of a multi-agency search and rescue operation in Western Cape that located two men after their boat sank off Cape Town.
SAAF helicopters often work with the NSRI, under the coordination of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, to rescue seafarers. For example, Oryx helicopters were used several times in 2019 to assist or airlift crewmembers. An Oryx provided support during the medical assistance provided to a fishing trawler on 12 March 2019 off Cape Point; in June, an Oryx and Lynx were used to search for three missing fishermen after their boat capsized near Hermanus; a Romanian crewmember suffering a medical emergency off Durban was airlifted to hospital in a serious condition on 9 August 2019 by a 15 Squadron Oryx and on 17 August 2019 an Oryx from 22 Squadron airlifted a crewman suffering a medical emergency off a research ship offshore of Hondeklipbaai on the West Coast.
Sources: NSRI and Defence Web