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Cape Town - Anna-Marie Wever of Stellenbosch, one of three women who were trapped under the Miroshga pleasure craft when it capsized off Hout Bay on Saturday, survived by pulling herself into a small cupboard where a pocket of air kept her alive.
With a broken thumb and her body temperature dropping dangerously low in the cold Atlantic water, she and two tourists from the UK, Bronwyn Armstrong and Lynette Hartmann, hung on to the inside of the vessel in the tiny space for around four hours until rescue divers could reach them.
Lying in her hospital bed in Vincent Pallotti’s intensive care unit on Sunday, Wever said: “It was dark in there. The boat was moving and the water rushing backwards and forwards, very strongly. I don’t know how long we were in there when we heard someone shouting from outside, knocking on the hull. When I heard that voice it was like a sound out of Heaven.”
The 10m-long Hangberg Charter catamaran capsized near Duiker Island soon after 2pm on Saturday with 39 people on board, 35 passengers and four crew. Two men drowned and 37 people were rescued in one of the biggest sea rescue operations ever seen on the Peninsula.
The two dead are crew member and tour guide John Roberts, 37, of Hout Bay, whose body was recovered by SA Navy divers on Sunday morning, and Peter Philip Hyett, 64, from the UK, on holiday with his family, whose body was recovered at the scene of the accident on Saturday.
Brad Geyser, of the NSRI in Hout Bay and joint operations commander of the rescue, said on Sunday: “It was a massive rescue, to get so many people saved. We triaged people and dispatched 24 to closest hospitals. It was mostly hypothermia, no serious trauma.”
Geyser said a wave had apparently broken over the stern. First the port engine stalled and then the starboard. The skipper ordered life jackets to be handed out and the liferaft was inflated.
It was at this point that Wever sent an SMS message to her two sons, Ette, 31, in Johannesburg and Daniël, 19, in Stellenbosch: “Groot moelikheid. (Big trouble)”.
“I phoned her immediately,” Daniël said. “I heard people screaming and the wind. She said: ‘They’re trying to keep the boat steady’, then it cut out. Later she said that’s when the boat capsized. She put her car keys around her neck and let her bag go.”
His brother Ette phoned, but there was silence. From Johannesburg he phoned the NSRI, who said they were already on their way to the vessel.
“She wasn’t even supposed to be on the boat. My dad is in the tourism industry and she took two ladies to the tour boat, but then SMSed me to say: ‘I’m going on the water, please think of me.’ I said: ‘Go and have fun, take a lot of photos’.”
Wever had just about had enough of the trip, with the wind and the heavy swell, when the wave broke over the stern. When the life jackets were being handed out, Wever moved closer to the skipper. She was there when the boat flipped.
“I thought: ‘That’s it, Lord, I will have to stay alive by faith. The water was swirling around and I was hanging on. The doors of a cupboard were swinging and my fingers were caught in the hinges.
“There was a small place, like a cupboard, where the lifejackets were kept and there was an air pocket. The water was so cold I knew I must pull myself up into that space.
“I said: ‘Lord, now I’m in a safe place but I need a miracle to get out.’
“There were two other women, younger. One was very anxious and was crying. It was difficult to breathe, not much air. I said listen to what I say, and be calm.
“I believed God was stronger than that water, I believed someone would rescue us.”
Elvin Stoffels, one of the divers from the provincial Metro rescue services, said he, Fabian Higgins and four police divers dived under the hull. They located the women when they saw the legs of one of them hanging in the water.
“It was very tricky and dangerous. The space was confined, the boat was moving in the massive swells. There was so much debris moving around, we first had to clear some of it, it was dangerous. Also with the movement, anything could close behind you. The problem was the space they were in was too small for any of us to get into. We blew air up into the space,” Stoffels said.
The divers had to pass breathing apparatus up to the women in the dark, then get them to take off their life jackets and let go so they could pull them down by their legs into the water and then swim them out from under the boat.
“Fabian got the first lady out, then the police divers got the other two out.”
Wever said one of the divers got his head inside and gave her the breathing apparatus.
“I was confused about what I must put in my mouth. He said I must let go and he would pull my legs. That was the worst, to let go. I couldn’t at first. Then I did, and I pulled back. The second time I let go, but my clothes got caught and I pulled back.
“Then the third time I let go and the diver brought me to the surface. I was so cold -– they told me my temperature was 26C – I just wanted to sleep but they said I must stay awake. I felt as if I had gallons of water in me.
“I kept thinking: ‘God is the God of the impossible’ and that sustained me.”
The other two women were treated in hospital and discharged on Sunday. Wever is still in hospital for observation.
* For exclusive video footage of the rescue drama by JJ, visit our facebook page: www.facebook/capetimes