A St Francis Bay paddler, clinging to his surfski in rough seas, was rescued by NSRI Port Elizabeth today seconds before being battered by an incoming set of breaking waves onto a reef.
Clint Hempel 48, became separated from a group of other paddlers making their way to Sardinia Bay this morning and had fallen off his surf-ksi which he clung to for dear life until found and taken to St Georges Hospital.
Ian Gray, NSRI Port Elizabeth Station Commander, said: at 10.52 am, 1 November 2014, NSRI Port Elizabeth were alerted that Hempel was missing in the vicinity of Sardinia Bay, Port Elizabeth.
A group of paddlers had undertaken a downwind paddle, from Summerstrand, on the Wild Side towards Sardinia Bay. During the paddle weather conditions deteriorated with visibility reduced by mist in rough sea swells of 3 meters and a steady 25 knot South Easterly wind.
At 10.15 am when the paddlers arrived at Sardinia Bay they realised Hempel was missing. They climbed up a sand dune to try to spot him and when they couldn’t see him they raised the alarm.
“NSRI Port Elizabeth responded in our sea rescue vehicle towing our sea rescue craft Boardwalk Rescue which was launched in the sea and our Quad Bike which went up the sand dune where shore sea rescue crew tried again to spot the paddler,” Gray said. “The Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Beach Office authorities and GaudMed ambulance services also responded.”
Hempel was then spotted three quarters of a nautical mile west of them. He appeared to be in the water, hanging onto his surf ski and drifting rapidly towards a reef and breaking wave sets.
In a rough and confused sea state the sea rescue craft reached Hempel but the first rescue effort was aborted to avoid breaking waves. Hempel appeared to be in a critical hypothermic state with his hands frozen in a vice grip to his paddle board.
He was unresponsive to verbal instructions and on a second run rescue effort sea rescue crew reached him and prized his hands free of his surf-ski. Hempel was then forcibly rescued onto the sea rescue craft with only seconds to spare as he was close to being battered by an incoming set of breaking waves.
On board the craft treatment commenced for severe hypothermia and there was a race to shore through extremely rough and a confused seas.
Hempel was in severe pain. On reaching shore he was loaded into a GaurdMed ambulance.
“Treatment for severe hypothermia continued in the ambulance and Hempel was transported to hospital in a critical condition where doctors continued to fight to save his life, “ Gray said. He also said that following extensive rewarming procedures Hempel’s condition has stabilised. “Although he remains in a serious condition in the Intensive Care Unit of St Georges Life Health Care Hospital, with his wife at his side, doctors are confident that he will fully recover.”
NSRI urges paddlers to wear brightly coloured and appropriate thermal gear for cold water and carry safety equipment – a fully charged cellphone with rescue phone numbers programmed into the phone and the phone in a water tight plastic sleeve, red distress flares, a referee whistle, a waterproof torch. “Always wear a life-jacket while on water and let a responsible person know your departure time, your exact route, your return time and stick to your route and on failing to return as expected that responsible person must be briefed to alert sea rescue authorities immediately. Paddlers are urged to paddle in groups with a ‘buddy system’ in place to ensure paddlers always have support during a paddle.”