Pals save blacked out diver

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Copy of ND Rhyn Harding (41449381)

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Rhyn Harding with a giant kingfish. Harding and his brother used CPR learnt in their teens to save friend Kelven Grung.

Durban - A spearfisherman has described how he and his brother struggled for 20 minutes to bring their friend back to life using CPR basics they had learnt as aspiring teen lifesavers in Durban years ago.

Kelven Grung had blacked out at 9 Mile Reef while spearfishing off Sodwana Bay at the weekend.

Grung, 38, a marine fish tank specialist, had seen a fish when he was at the end of his breath, and pursued it.

The Bluff resident suffered a shallow water blackout – becoming unconscious after holding his breath too long.

The group of five friends were spearfishing off the boat Maginty at iSimangaliso’s 9 Mile Reef just north of Sodwana Bay on Saturday, when Grung suffered the blackout.

Rhyn Harding, 38, and his brother, Jonathan 35, administered CPR, allowing Grung to get oxygen until he started breathing by himself again.

“He was literally gone for 20 minutes. He had no heartbeat. We thought he was dead. He was limp,” Rhyn Harding said on Monday.

Harding, who now lives in Pretoria where he builds and maintains marine tanks, said he had met Grung in his mid-twenties through a shared love of marine tanks.

“He taught me all I know.”

Harding said the sea conditions were slightly choppy with poor visibility, with a slight north-south current.

They were diving according to the “buddy system”, where one diver remains on the surface while the other dives underwater.

Harding, who was on the surface, said he became worried when he realised Grung had been down too long.

“I asked my brother if he had come up, and we looked if we could see his floats.”

Harding dived back to see if he could locate Grung, and found him floating about 1m below the surface.

“I first saw a shadow, and when I got close I saw that it was Kelven. He had dropped his spear gun.”

He said Grung had suffered a shallow water blackout, a well-known danger facing divers – loss of consciousness caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, usually when coming up from a dive.

“Kelven had seen a fish at end-of-breath, and pursued it,” he said.

“We administered CPR for five minutes in the water, and for 15 minutes in the boat. We were crying and pleading, ‘come back to us, don’t leave us’. It was a completely emotional experience,” he said.

“We just carried on with CPR, even though we saw no response. We thought we must carry on until we got to the beach where a doctor or an ambulance could take over.

“It was tiring. We did it for five minutes in the water and we had to swim at the same time. Jonathan and I took turns, me first on giving CPR and him on compression, then we would swop.

“After 15 minutes, we saw his eyes flicker and heard his voice for the first time. He had a very light pulse. We stopped with CPR because he could breathe on his own. He spoke but what he said made no sense; we thought he had sustained brain damage.”

iSimangaliso Wetland Park media officer, Siya Mhlongo, said Harding and his brother loaded Grung on to the boat and returned to Sodwana.

They continued with CPR until Grung started vomiting and became more responsive, Mhlongo said.

He said an air ambulance had been called while the boat was en route to the Sodwana beach landing site.

“When the helicopter arrived Mr Grung was sitting on his own and was responding to the emergency services,” Mhlongo said. Grung was airlifted to Ngwelezane Hospital.

Doctors have said Grung should make a full recovery, with no complications, Harding said. Grung was treated to prevent any infection to the lungs.

He was expected to return home on Tuesday.

The weekend was meant to be a reunion for the friends, who took their families along. Grung and Jonathan Harding each have two children.

“I’m an avid spearfisherman, I do it whenever I can, but I’m contemplating giving it a break, said Harding. “We could have lost a good guy.”

He laughed wryly at the thought that his friend seems blissfully unaware of the life-threatening drama, as he was unconscious.

“He just says, ‘huh?’.”

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