Local teens recall their dramatic sea rescue: ‘We’re not heroes – helping others should be second nature’

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Lisa Stumpf, Megan Johnson, Abbygail Janse Van Rensburg and Karla Stumpf swim 100 m into the sea to save drowning girl. With the girls is Kevin the dog, who waited on the beach while the rescue took place (Photo: Supplied)
Lisa Stumpf, Megan Johnson, Abbygail Janse Van Rensburg and Karla Stumpf swim 100 m into the sea to save drowning girl. With the girls is Kevin the dog, who waited on the beach while the rescue took place (Photo: Supplied)

What started as a leisurely stroll along the beach turned into a dramatic rescue effort for four teenagers from Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape.

Now the teens have been hailed heroes for saving a girl who was being swept out to sea by a rip current. “It’s surreal because we started processing everything only after it happened,” Abbygail Janse van Rensburg (14) tells YOU.

Abbygail and her friends Megan Johnson (19) and twins Lisa and Karla Stumpf (19) were out walking their dog, Kevin, at Checkers beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early February when approached by a frantic woman screaming for help.

Her daughter was being pulled out to sea, the woman said. “We grabbed a body board and ran to the beach,” Lisa says.

While Megan and Karla raised the alarm with lifeguard services, Lisa and Abbygail waited at the water’s edge. Worried that help would arrive too late, Abbygail grabbed the body board and paddled about 100m into the ocean but the current was so strong she had to reroute to reach the girl.

As she neared her and tried to pass her the body board, Abbygail was pulled underwater. “I got a fright,” she recalls. “I told the girl not to lean on me and instead use the board for floatation.”

 

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With Abbygail and the girl struggling to reach the shore, Karla sprang into action. Grabbing a pair of flippers, she briskly swam to the pair with another body board in hand and managed to pull them to safety. “I saw Abbygail and the girl battling as they kept on getting pulled deeper and deeper into the ocean,” Karla says. “I couldn’t just leave them there.”

When officials from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) arrived, the trio had safely reached the shore. The girl, who is from Hankey and whose identity is unknown to the teens, was reportedly swimming with her brother when she got into trouble. Her brother managed to swim to safety.

“As we got out the brother of the girl we saved was shaking and deeply traumatised. He was superscared and kept crying and thanking us,” Abbygail says.

Megan, who’d watched the drama unfold on the shore with their dog Kevin, was also shaken. “I was freaking out for them,” she says. “As I stood on the beach watching them battle through the ripping waves, my legs were shaking.”

The teens were exhausted by the waves and strong current and the reality of their courageous actions only hit them later. “I think the adrenaline in the moment helped,” Lisa says, “but it’s scary to realise if we were two minutes late or so we could’ve lost a life and even one of us might no longer be here. We could’ve been telling a completely different story.” 

Karla and Lisa, who are from Cape Town, are regular visitors to Jeffery’s Bay during the summer holidays and spend much of their time swimming.

(Photo: Supplied/Rieg & AD Photography)
The teens were strolling along the beach when they were approached by a frantic woman screaming for help (Photo: Supplied/Rieg & AD Photography)

“We live near the ocean, so we swim quite a lot and we’ve learnt about the currents,” Lisa says. Abbygail meanwhile credits her quick thinking to her father, Rieghard Janse Van Rensburg, who is a founder member of the NSRI. “I’ve been around a lot of near-drowning incidents where I’ve witnessed someone being rescued,” she says.

The three girls met Megan, who lives in Johannesburg, at Jeffrey’s Bay during a previous holiday season. All four are now being hailed as heroes but they have shaken off the praise.

“Helping others should be second nature,” Karla says.

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