Family apologises for lanterns mistaken for distress flares

2015-11-14 07:15


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Port Elizabeth - A Port Elizabeth family that released Chinese lanterns, which were mistaken for distress flares, causing rescue officials to rush to the scene, on Friday apologised. 

The family sent an e-mail to News24 saying that they had learnt of the panic caused through an article written by News24. 

"I am just confirming that we set off a number of Chinese lanterns last night on the beach at the pier in Summerstrand as a memorial tribute to my daughter that passed away for her birthday," said Cueen Titus.

"My apologies to the rescue parties involved and I do hope that this information will resolve the confusion," he said. 

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) earlier told News24 that it had deployed a team offshore from Port Elizabeth's Summerstrand beachfront after it received reports of multiple red distress flares.

NSRI Port Elizabeth station commander Ian Gray said no one was found missing at sea or in distress on Thursday night and it concluded the flares could possibly have been Chinese lanterns.

"An extensive search operation commenced while the eyewitnesses, at a local restaurant, confirmed without doubt that what they saw were red distress flares and when beachcombers at Summerstrand were interviewed it came to light... that they had witnessed a group of people arriving at the beach and setting off around 10 Chinese lanterns believed to have been set off as part of a memorial service," he said.

"To be sure, and because the original eyewitnesses were adamant that what they had seen were red distress flares, and fearful that the red distress flare activation set off by persons in distress on the water may have coincided with the setting off of the Chinese lanterns, an extensive search operation continued but... no sign of anyone in distress could be found."

They also looked at boat launch sites for empty boat trailers or abandoned vehicles with paddleboard racks but found no signs of anyone missing.

"We suspended the search but we will continue to monitor the situation," Gray said.

The NSRI previously said on its website that these lanterns, which are also called sky lanterns, "are very beautiful when they float away on a gentle breeze, bright yellow against a dark sky".

"Some wedding planners are suggesting that they would enhance a couple’s special day, making the event one to remember, but if you think about them carefully, you will agree they are a hazard in every way," it said.

"When they float out to sea they are often reported as emergency flares and cause sea rescue hours of fruitless searching. There is no way that they cannot search… unless witnesses can be found who are 100% sure that the reported “flare” was a sky lantern and definitely not a flare.

"Should the lantern float inland and come down before the fuel block is completely extinguished, it could cause a fire which could easily destroy property and perhaps lives," the NSRI said.

Read more on:    nsri  |  port elizabeth

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