Divers tell of ordeal

2012-11-12 00:00

NINE divers who were stranded in choppy seas for several hours off Shelly Beach on the South Coast yesterday morning thought they would never be rescued.

The men were separated from their dive boat by a strong current. They watched as a helicopter flew over them and two boats passed nearby, but no one spotted them bobbing in the waves.

Finally, five hours after the men had set out for their early morning dive, local charter boat owner Chris Korsten found them drifting 18 km south of Protea Bank, a popular dive site, eight kilometres out to sea, and came to their rescue.

One of the divers, Stephen Borain, of Durban, described the ordeal.

“The dive was fabulous even though the current was strong.

“But the part that was frightening was that two boats came past us and we could see them and they couldn’t see us and even the helicopter that flew over us didn’t seem to be able to see us.”

Wouter Gheyfelf, of Belgium, said that although he was an experienced diver, it was a frightening experience.

“We did all the right things by staying together as a group and not panicking, but the thing I was worried about was sharks.

“We had just seen them when we were diving, so I couldn’t help thinking about them while we were bobbing on the sea waiting desperately to be found,” said Gheyfelf.

The men had gone out on a dive boat at 7 am yesterday morning and when they were reported missing at 9.35 am, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) was called in to help.

When Korsten heard about the missing divers, he joined the rescue operation at 11 am in his charter boat, Tyde, and found the missing men an hour later.

“As soon as I heard there were divers missing I knew I could help. What I did was anchor a buoy to my boat to see in what direction it moved and how fast, so I could work out where the current would most likely have taken the divers.

“Once I had established this it took me less than an hour to go straight to where they were. I was ecstatic to be able to find them.”

By the time Korsten joined the search there was already two sea rescue craft — one from NSRI Shelly Beach and another from NSRI Port Edward — and a police search and rescue team.

They were supported by two rescue helicopters, one from the Transnet National Ports Authority and the other from the police search and rescue unit, and four private boats.

Netcare 911 ambulance services were standing by at the NSRI Shelly Beach sea rescue base, where a joint operations command had been established.

Craig Lambinon, of the NSRI, which mounted the search and rescue operation, said the charter dive boat, from which the divers were scuba diving, lost sight of the divers in 25 to 30 knot north-easterly winds and a four metre swell and raised the alarm.

“The initial call-out went out at 9.35 am,” he said.

The skipper of the dive boat was treated for shock and will be counselled by trauma counsellors.

The divers could have been exposed to several dangers, including shark attacks, drowning and fatigue. Lambinon said: “There are 1 000 scenarios and I refuse to speculate because they were found.”

The nine divers are Stuart Skene (42) from Durban, Ian van Heerden (43) from Pennington, Stethe Barain (30) from Durban, Wouter Gheyfelf (42) from Belgium, Dennis Hagemann ( 29) from Durban, Mike Slabbart (56) from Umhlanga, Gen Slabbart (53) from Umhlanga, Alan MacLean (40) from Hillcrest and Roland Mauz (40), a local who was the dive master.

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