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Durban - A KwaZulu-Natal dive master is lucky to be alive after drifting for seven hours and 45km at sea while a full-scale search for him was under way on Tuesday.
Jean-Pierre Els, 30, disappeared at about 8am while conducting a chartered group dive with African Dive Adventures off Shelly Beach.
According to the local National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) station commander, Mark Harlen, it appeared that Els became separated from the group during the dive at the Protea Banks, 10km off the South Coast.
The institute was alerted to Els’s disappearance by the dive boat, and a search began.
“We deployed the Transnet National Ports Authority rescue helicopter, three NSRI sea rescue craft, and there were five private boats assisting in the search,” said Harlen.
After scanning the choppy waters for more than seven hours, Els was spotted by crew on the rescue helicopter. The 3m swells and a 30-knot wind had carried him 45km down the coast to Port Edward.
“Despite exhaustion, dehydration and some sunburn, he… will not need to be (admitted to hospital),” Harlen said.
A small crowd gathered outside the NSRI base at Shelley Beach to which Els was taken. Els appeared to be unhurt, but declined to be interviewed.
In November, nine divers with African Dive Adventures were missing for four hours in the same area before being found. In an incident earlier this month involving another charter company, Calypso Dive and Adventure, Durban university lecturer Daxita Rajput died after disappearing off the Bluff. Her body was later pulled from the water.