NSRI search for missing paddlers in surf-ski race yesterday

By Bev Mortimer

There was high drama yesterday in the Pam Golding down wind surf-ski challenge between St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay when three Eastern Cape NSRI stations searched for a missing paddler overdue at the finish line for more than an hour, while a helicopter rescue unit and an SA Air Force squadron were on high alert.

Paddlers entering the sea at Main beach, St Francis Bay. Photo: Donna

Paddlers entering the sea at Main beach, St Francis Bay. Photo: Donna

The paddler, 51 year-old Phil Honey from Jeffreys Bay, was eventually found hanging onto his surf-ski, unable to get back on in the gale force winds. He had been clinging onto his surf-ski for at least 40 minutes before being rescued but he was uninjured.

The event yesterday, 20 July, started off with wind conditions of 18 knots but shortly into the challenge the wind picked up to 45 knots causing some paddlers to retire from the challenge by heading to shore and beaching.

According to Marc May, NSRI St Francis Bay station commander, during the event paddlers split up from each other making it more difficult for the NSRI to assist in minor rescues of paddlers largely overcome by strong winds. Plus it was difficult to determine those paddlers safely accounted for.

While some paddlers eventually reached the finish line the tally showed three paddlers were missing. An extensive search operation resulted in two of the missing paddlers being found safe.  NSRI volunteers assisted them to reach the shore.

The start of the surfski challenge yesterday. Photo: Donna

The start of the surfski challenge yesterday. Photo: Donna

Then the search continued for the missing Honey. Fishing boats in the area were also requested to keep a look out for him. Volunteers from the NSRI St Francis Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Port Elizabeth stations were involved, plus the Port Elizabeth’s helicopter rescue unit and the SA Air Force 15 Squadron Charlie Flight were on high alert.

“During the search NSRI Jeffreys Bay shore crews spotted Honey off-shore at Aston Bay and a chokka fishing boat and our auxiliary sea rescue craft El Raggy responded and we rescued Honey,” May said.

He recounted that during the surfski challenge NSRI St Francis Bay volunteer sea rescue duty crew were involved to assist to monitor the surf-skiers from the sea rescue craft Eikos Rescuer I and from the auxiliary sea rescue craft El Raggy. “NSRI Jeffreys Bay and NSRI Port Elizabeth were also on stand-by for the event with NSRI Jeffreys Bay crew monitoring along the shoreline to assist.

“Officials and NSRI volunteers were kept busy identifying those that came ashore and in numerous cases our sea rescue craft corralled paddlers and assisting them to reach the shore, in many cases by minor rescue operations.”

May adds that all paddlers were finally accounted for and no paddlers were injured.

Pam Golding St Francis Bay’s Richard Arderne says: “Huge thanks to the NSRI for rescuing three paddlers. “I forgot to thank James and Karen Jooste for making their boat available to the NSRI. 

“Yesterday’s near tragedy is a reminder that all safety equipment must be in place: leash, cell phone, and flare. NSRI’s Marc May recommends a smoke flare, which is what I carried yesterday. ”

(edited)

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