Missing divers swim more than four hours before being rescued

2009-12-03 00:00

TWO missing divers swam for more than four hours to reach the shore, before being found during an extensive search along the south coast, about 11 km from where they’d been diving.

It was twilight on Tuesday, shortly before 6 pm, when Mike Fraser (53), of Pumula at Port Shepstone and his Swiss friend, Nicolas Willemin (44), were found about 300 metres from the beach near the mouth of the Umkomaas River.

A police helicopter, two boats belonging to the National Sea Rescue Institute and nine boats from the Rocky Bay ski boat club at Park Rynie took part in the search-and-rescue effort.

When it became clear the men were missing, club members dropped what they were doing, and within an hour, nine boats were in the water to help in the search for the two divers, said Tommie Taylor, chair of the Rocky Bay ski boat club.

In cloudy, rainy weather and with swells of 1,5 metres, visibility was limited to 50 metres at times.

Late in the afternoon, a helicopter flew straight down towards the two divers, who waved their torches and neon-coloured marking buoys, but they weren’t spotted.

It was the crew of an inflatable boat who eventually spotted Fraser and Willemin.

According to Fraser, they decided to swim ashore at 1.20 pm when, after a second dive at Landers Reef, about 4,5 km from the beach, they reached the surface and couldn’t see their boat.

“It’s something I prepare myself for psychologically before every dive, because you never know what could happen,” Fraser, who has been diving for 21 years, said yesterday.

Willemin, whom he’s known for 12 years, is a diving instructor.

Fraser said Kenneth Cele, who was on the boat during their dive, lost sight of their diving buoy when he was switching fuel tanks, which takes a few minutes to complete.

He searched for the men and left to look for help when the boat started running low on fuel.

Fraser thinks the current drove them about 1,5 km away underwater.

The two men started swimming slowly towards the beach and their diving jackets kept them buoyant when they rested.

“I guessed we would reach the beach by sundown. We were more concerned about our friends and family, who would have been fearing the worst by that stage,” said Fraser.

[Getting lost] is something I prepare myself for psychologically before every dive, because you never know what could happen.

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