Durban - Shelly Beach native Chris Korsten refuses to see himself as a hero, insisting he only did what many others would have done if placed in the same situation.
The father of two, 39, clad in threadbare T-shirt and weathered shorts, looks at home as we chat alongside his fishing charter boat.
A haze of diesel smoke from revving boat engines washes over us as he recounts how he saved the lives of nine divers within an hour of putting his boat in the water.
“I opened my shop in the morning and at about 10am someone mentioned to me that divers had gone missing on Protea Banks,” he said.
A party of nine divers had gone missing at sea off the coast of Shelly Beach after the skipper of their dive boat lost sight of a buoy which identified their position beneath the swells.
NSRI volunteers, fisherman and even a helicopter had launched a massive search, combing the coastline for the missing divers.
“We are a tight knit community and news travels fast here. I called the launch tower just to find out if it was true.” Then he called a friend and said: “Let’s go.
“I was going to look for these divers. We are on these waters every day. We drop anchor and we drift out on the sea and have an understanding of how the currents work out here. You learn how your boat drifts and how certain objects drift in the water,” he said.
“The current where these guys were diving could pull a boat out from north to south. But the current would act differently on a diver in the water because they are a lot smaller than a boat. What I did was to simulate a diver in the water. I took an anchor with a chain attached to a buoy. That buoy simulates the body of a diver.
“I deployed the buoy and marked the location on my GPS. I followed it for 10 minutes to see the distance it moved and the course it would take. It pointed me in a different direction to where the NSRI and other boats were searching.
“It’s important to get exactly which way the buoy would drift instead of where a boat would drift. I saw that the buoy had moved over 600m in 10 minutes. The current here is incredibly strong.”
Korsten said a quick calculation, taking into account the distance that his experiment buoy had floated and the time the divers had been missing, helped him identify an area where the divers may have been.
“I punched that point where they had been lost and then made a beeline on the plotted course,” he said.
Kortsen had two police rescue divers on the boat. Near the 18km mark, one of the spotters saw the divers.
“We raced to them. It’s an amazing feeling. When I think about the moment when I saw those three emergency buoys that the divers were clinging to, I get a lump in my throat.
“They had been in the water for four hours. I loaded them all on to my boat and the atmosphere was amazing. They were all ecstatic,” he said.
Within an hour of launching his boat, Korsten had found the divers.
As it turns out, this is not the first time he’s saved missing divers.
“Two years ago the same thing happened.”
He cautioned those looking to allocate blame.
“Something like this will happen again. A diver goes down and the current is so strong he will get moved a significant distance. You’re virtually diving in a river but you don’t realise it. The buoy can go under the water for a number of reasons, it’s nobody’s fault,” he said.