Close call for divers off Shelly Beach

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Statement by NSRI Shelly Beach station commander Jeremiah Jackson:

At 16h40, Thursday, 21st April, NSRI Shelly Beach duty crew were alerted following reports from anglers who were fishing on the shoreline at Orange Rocks, Uvongo, that they could see what looked like two scuba divers swimming towards shore. The divers looked out of place, not accompanied by a dive boat, about half a mile off-shore of Orange Rocks, and the fishermen raised the alarm.

When NSRI Shelly Beach arrived on the scene, the two divers were already ashore and safe. The two divers reported that they had surfaced from a dive at Deep Salmon Reef (about a nautical mile off-shore of Shelly Beach) to find their support boat about a hundred metres away from them after they had had dived and surfaced only a few minutes later.

Their marker buoy had been blown flat by the wind so the suspicion was that the skipper on their support boat, a 5.5 metre rigid inflatable, Splice of Life, could not see them and efforts to shout towards the boat were hampered by the strong wind and they tried to swim towards the support boat but they were unable to swim towards their support boat because of strong winds and they seemed unable to signal towards their support boat using their marker buoy.

Not knowing that the dive boat had suffered motor failure and unaware that the skipper on the dive boat was trying to fix the motors and possibly not aware that they had surfaced so soon after going down but also not able to see the marker buoy because it was being blown flat by the wind. The two divers had then realised that they could swim towards the shoreline with the currents and with a lull in the wind and they decided to make the dash for shore and that they would raise the alarm once on shore. It took about 1 and a half hours to get to shore and they timed the sets to get out of the water onto rocks where fishermen were on hand to help them.

NSRI alerted Shelly Beach boat tower control and they called the support boat by radio and the skipper reported that the boat had suffered one motor failure, battery power failure, and the skipper was having difficulty starting the second motor and the skipper reported that she had subsequently lost sight of the divers buoy. The skipper was relieved to learn that the two divers were safely ashore.

NSRI Shelly Beach launched the sea rescue craft Spirit of Dawn and found Splice of Life in the vicinity of Deep Salmon Reef and NSRI were able to get one of the motors started and then escorted Splice of Life to shore where the two divers were reunited with their skipper. Everyone involved was relieved at the outcome. The two divers, Brent Vinnicombe, 39, from Cape Town, and Michael Whitcombe, 26, from Margate, were assessed by Hibiscus Medivac paramedics but both men were not injured and they required no further assistance.

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