Durban - Durban diver Phillip Mostert, whose friend and diving partner died on Monday after being dragged out to sea by strong currents at Brighton Beach, has described his own desperate fight for survival.
“Okay, this is it. This is where I’m going to die,” he said he had told himself while floundering in rough seas on Sunday afternoon.
His long-time friend, Ronald Reece, with whom he had been trying to catch crayfish moments before, was nowhere to be seen, Mostert, 37, told the Daily News on Tuesday.
“I somehow managed to reach up to a rock while flailing and pulled myself out. I was clinging to that rock for dear life, even though I cut my left hand.
“The whole time I was thinking (about) where Ronald was. I looked around but I couldn’t see him.”
After a few minutes, Mostert saw that Reece was still stuck in the rip current, flashing at him with his dive torch, indicating he was in distress.
The two experienced divers encountered difficulties at about 5pm, resulting in them being swept out to sea.
He said that he and Reece, 36, had been trying to catch crayfish, but when the waves became choppy and rough, they decided to leave.
However, they changed their minds when they met a local spearfisherman who was at the beach with his young daughter.
“He told us that he was a seasoned spearfisherman and that the conditions were quite good for spearing. We noticed that a few other fishermen in the area had been pulling out nice-sized catches, so we decided to give it a try,” Mostert said.
“He told us visibility was also very good.”
Mostert said he and Reece decided to “get back in”.
“We didn’t put our flippers on because the spearfisherman told us it was quite calm in that spot.”
He said disaster struck soon after they had re-entered the water.
“The current came out of nowhere and pulled us out. I had gone further than Ronald, but my weight belt got caught in some fishing line. I used my knife to cut myself free.”
“Eventually, because you have to get rid of excess weight so you don’t get weighed down, I remembered to drop my belt.”
He said he struggled with it and that it had somehow got hooked to his foot.
That was when he thought he was going to die, he said.
Mostert said he finally managed to climb on to the rocks and he stumbled on to the beach, calling for help to find Reece.
“At this point there were no lifeguards around, so I asked Mike (the spearfisherman) to go in to save him.”
“He ran up to the lifeguards’ station but found nobody there. So he asked one of the guys we saw cleaning the area to use his walkie-talkie.”
However, the message relayed via the walkie-talkie was garbled.
“We found out later that there had been a break in communication and the lifeguards had been told that there was a drunk man in trouble. The urgency was not conveyed.”
The spearfisherman went in to the water and managed to find Reece.
“Several lifeguards eventually arrived and were also caught in the current.”
The lifeguards and the spearfisherman had to wait for a lifeboat to rescue them.
“I saw that he (Reece) still had his snorkel and goggles on so I thought he was okay,” Mostert said.
The lifeguards brought Reece to shore and began CPR. By this time paramedics had also arrived.
“That is when I saw he was not breathing, but I begged them not to stop (trying to resuscitate him). Eventually they found a faint pulse and took him to hospital.”
He said metro police at the scene helped contact his family and arranged a lift to the hospital.
Reece died at King Edward VIII Hospital on Monday.
An inquest docket was opened at SAPS, Umbilo on Monday.
The former Cape Town man, who moved to Queensburgh, had been a qualified scuba diver, contrary to previous reports that he was a novice, said Mostert.
He said he was devastated to learn of Reece’s death. “I didn’t lose a friend. I lost a brother.”
Mostert said he had been diving since he was a child, “but I was still an amateur compared to him”.
The pair had been friends for 20 years.
“We dived regularly, just not in that particular spot. We usually ask locals for advice and try and make the most of each dive,” he said.
Mostert said his biggest regret was not leaving the beach when they had initially planned to.