Rescue swimmer honoured

2008-08-29 00:00

“I have to pay absolute homage to the flight crew. I appreciate how difficult it is to keep a helicopter in the air at the best of times, how quickly things can go wrong and how devastating it can be in a very short space of time.”

André Fletcher, the Durban-based rescue swimmer who received a silver Gallantry Award from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) on Thursday, said the rescue of three yachtsmen in raging seas off Durban on June 19 was “all about team work”. This award is the highest given for bravery since 1998.

The strange thing, however, was that he had never flown with this team on a rescue mission before. Pilot Rhys Mason, co-pilot Douglas Nichols and flight engineer-cum-winchman Gerhan Coetzee were also recognised for their bravery at the same awards ceremony.

The entire rescue was over in 30 minutes. According to NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon, the 10-metre yacht Eggnog was caught in a Force 7 gale with four-metre swells and heavy rain squalls just off Durban. Because conditions made a boat rescue impossible, it was decided to send the National Ports Authority helicopter to rescue the three-man crew.

By the time the helicopter found the yacht, it was dark and weather conditions had deteriorated.

Fletcher said that the Eggnog had been limping along the KZN coast with rigging problems and was unable to lower its sail. The terrible weather and the fact that the mast was pitching from side to side in the wind made it impossible to lift the crew off the yacht’s deck. They were instructed to jump overboard.

It took four lifts to pull the crew to safety. First time round, Fletcher swung to and fro and was even dunked into the heavy swells, but found no one had left the yacht. On his second attempt, he managed to scoop up the single yachtie who had been brave enough to jump.

In hindsight, he says he can understand why the sailors wanted to remain aboard. “They had to have faith that I would be there in the water with them and that I would be able to rescue them.”

Fletcher said all concerned were constantly aware of the danger.

“At any point, any of us could have said stop, this is not worth it. We were getting low on fuel and we knew [once we had completed the rescue] we would have been over-weight. But we carried on.”

He said it was not a Baywatch scenario, all the glitz and glamour. However, it was a significant and unusual rescue, mainly due to the terrible weather conditions.

Fletcher said only a small part of NSRI volunteers’ time is actually spent rescuing people. For every hour spent doing rescue work, 10 are spent training, washing boats or greasing winch cables.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.