Nine exhausted scuba divers recalled on Sunday how they had surfaced after a dive on the South Coast only to find that their boat was nowhere to be seen.
They floated in the ocean, being battered by four-metre swells and winds of 25 to 30 knots until they were eventually found four hours later, 18km from their dive spot at Protea Banks, near Shelly Beach.
The drama started when the skipper of their diving charter boat raised the alarm after losing sight of the divers’ marker buoy.
It appears that the rope which attached the marker buoy to the divers parted.
Two helicopters, jetskis and seven rescue craft – four of them private charters – were involved in the search for the divers, who had been shark diving.
Bystanders and residents gathered at the NSRI base while other local boat owners prepared to launch their craft to assist.
Clapping, whistling and cheers erupted when the group stepped on to dry land at midday.
“When we came up to the surface the boat was gone,” explained one of the divers, Stuart Skene, 42.
“The boat had lost us because of the current dragging us off the dive site.”
Although they were lost for hours, the divers said they knew they would be rescued eventually. Not even Jenny Slabbert, who claimed to be the most panicky in the group, thought otherwise.
“I just grabbed my husband’s hand on one side and Stuart’s on the other and I knew we would be okay.”
Roland Muaz, the diver master and owner of the charter company African Dive Adventures, said the group could see the helicopters searching for them in the distance, but they were flying too close to the shore.
“In the beginning we were joking a bit, but by the end of it we were not talking at all. We needed to keep our energy levels up and our wits about us. We had to keep the hope going. We knew people were looking for us, so it was just a matter of waiting.”
Muaz said the strong diving abilities and characters of the group also helped.
“No one was complaining or whingeing. After our joking, we got straight to business.”
The group started swimming towards the shore, stopping to rest every now and again. That they were experienced divers also helped in keeping them calm and seeing them rescued.
“It would have been a very different scenario if we were a group of novices,” Ivan van Heerden, 43, said.
Although the intensive search involved the NSRI, Transnet National Ports Authority, SAPS Search and Rescue, and private boats, the hero of the day was Chris Korsten, who eventually found the divers.
He explained that he had made a makeshift dan buoy – a temporary flotation marker – and placed it in the water to see where it would drift.
“I was working it out and sat for 10 minutes measuring the distance and degree… I worked out that they would be about 18km down from Southbroom.
“So when I saw them I was ecstatic. It was a great feeling,” Korsten said.
Once he brought the divers to shore on his boat, Tristan & Tyde II, Shelly Beach was a hive of activity as family, friends and locals wanted to talk to them.
The divers also phoned home to tell their loved ones that they were safe.
Van Heerden said he was expecting a bit of trouble from his wife as his father disappeared on a dive in the Caribbean about five years ago and was not found.
After phoning to tell her he was safe, he confirmed to his diving partners that she was not impressed.
Muaz’s wife, Beulah – who co-owns African Dive Charters with him and is also a diver – was heard telling him, “Not again, this is the last time”, as she hugged him in relief when he got off the rescue boat.
But Slabbert and Skene, when asked afterwards about the date of their next diving trip, replied simultaneously: “Next weekend.”