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Heroic beach rescue in rip tide conditions

Lifeguards, from left, Zipho Maphumulo, Thulani Dlamini, Thula Zulu, Thanda Jele and Simlindile Mbutho, who saved 15 people in very rough seas on New Year’s Day at eManzimtoti’s Pipeline Beach. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Lifeguards, from left, Zipho Maphumulo, Thulani Dlamini, Thula Zulu, Thanda Jele and Simlindile Mbutho, who saved 15 people in very rough seas on New Year’s Day at eManzimtoti’s Pipeline Beach. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 8, 2022

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Emergency and rescue services, having worked tirelessly during the last few weeks, head into the final weekend of the festive season with people still flocking to beaches along the coast.

“It was certain death for 15 people if those lifeguards had not been there.”

That was beach superintendent Jace Govender speaking about the heroic rescue of 15 people caught in dangerous seas off Pipeline Beach in eManzimtoti on New Year’s Day.

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Emergency and rescue services, having worked tirelessly during the last few weeks, head into the final weekend of the festive season with people still flocking to beaches along the coast.

At least one person drowned on Thursday after lifeguards had gone off duty, prompting official reminders for people to only swim in the sea when rescue personnel were at their posts.

A search for a second swimmer continued yesterday.

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This week, a video clip of the New Year’s Day rescue went viral on social media, showing lifeguards working in a well coordinated response to save the lives of the swimmers struggling in rolling ocean waves and strong rip current.

On the video, anxious crowds watching the rescue clap and cheer as the swimmers who had been swept out to sea are brought safely back to shore.

The Independent on Saturday visited the beach on Thursday to meet some of the heroes who were monitoring the thousands of holiday revellers at the beach on New Year’s Day.

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eThekwini South beaches spread along 69km and include eManzimtoti, Pipeline, Warner and Winklespruit beaches, which Govender said were all busy with an estimated 16 000-strong crowd at Pipeline.

There was a spring equinox on New Year’s Day which can result in hazardous rip tides and underlying currents.

Govender said: “Ocean conditions were very, very dangerous. The lifeguards all had their hands full and we were running from beach to beach.”

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Describing his team of lifeguards as “a well-oiled machine”, Govender said the call for rescue came at about 4pm. He also called for assistance from lifeguards from other nearby beaches.

“The lifeguards do this every day, they are real heroes who rescue hundreds of lives. Every day they save people who are guaranteed to die if (the lifeguards) weren’t there.

“They got the 15 people back to the beach safely, they were celebrating,” said Govender.

He added that many people who go to the beach were unable to swim, making them vulnerable to drowning, particularly in rough surf conditions. An estimated 5 000 people visited Pipeline Beach daily during the festive period.

Thula Zulu, Thanda Jele, Thulani Dlamini, Ziphozonke Maphumulo and Simlindile Mbutho, who are professional lifeguards at Pipeline, were modest about the rescue which saw them heading into turbulent waves without hesitation.

Describing the rescue, Zulu said: “It was hectic, there were so many people who nearly drowned, it all happened so quickly.”

Dlamini said: “It was a bit tricky, but we are always vigilant as to what is happening in the ocean. It was good to save people’s lives, there were no resuscitations and no drownings. As lifeguards, we have to be patient and professional at all times.

“We are there to keep people safe and we are always watching. We have to try to contain people in one area,” said Dlamini.

Yesterday, eThekwini Municipality media spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said about the rescue: “The beach lifeguards responded immediately and on seeing there was a large group, made the quick call to other beaches for the need to assemble a mass rescue.

“Other lifeguards were called for back-up from adjoining beaches, with emergency rescue craft being launched from the beach to assist and retrieve bathers due to the continuous rip current conditions.

“It must be added these lives were saved due to the vigilance of the lifeguards on duty and must be commended or the situation would have been dire for the families of these bathers,” said Mayisela.

There no reported drownings until January 3, according to the municipality. But Mayisela said that on Thursday at 8pm a rescue took place at Pipeline, with CPR being administered to a swimmer, who died.

Also on Thursday night emergency responders were called to Brighton Beach after reports of two swimmers in trouble.

Mayisela said: “Both these incidents happened after the closure of the beaches. We are very concerned as these incidents could have been avoided and we ask that residents exercise caution.

“We want to strongly reiterate that all bathers need to heed the caution of lifeguards and swim only between the designated flags at bathing beaches and only during times that the lifeguards are on duty, for their own protection,” he said.

Yesterday at Brighton Beach, the search was continuing for a missing swimmer.

NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) spokesperson Craig Lambinon confirmed that at about 7pm on Thursday, the duty crew were alerted by reports that two men had been swept out to sea in rip currents.

The sea-rescue craft Spirit of Surfski 6 was launched, accompanied by a Metro Police Search & Rescue diver, a sea rescue vehicle, rescue swimmers and KZN EMS paramedics.

“On arrival, we found a 34-year-old male safe on the beach. He had been swept northwards in rip currents and was able to get to shore. A local 32-year-old male was still missing in the surf. Witness reports suggest that the missing man had been swept southwards in rip currents before disappearing under water.

“An extensive sea and shoreline search revealed no sign of the man. Metro Police Search and Rescue and SAPS Search and Rescue will continue in the on-going search operation.

“Our thoughts are with the family of the missing man in this difficult time,” said Lambinon.

He added that NSRI had put out safety messages urging visitors to only go to the beach when lifeguards were on duty.

“We are encouraging everyone to be safety conscious when they are around water,” he said.

The Independent on Saturday

Related Topics:

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