Sunday, 14 October 2012

Heroes of Hout Bay disaster

Hout Bay fisherman Alfonso Wichman has described the nightmare sight of people thrashing in the icy Atlantic waves as he and his crew approached the capsized whale-watching boat Miroshga just north of Duiker Island near Hout Bay yesterday afternoon.

One person, thought to be a British visitor, has been confirmed dead. One person is still missing, who is believed to be crew member John Roberts. Thirty nine people have been rescued.

Wichman’s boat was the first to reach the Miroshga yesterday.

He said: “The first thing we saw was the boat capsized and an empty liferaft, and then dozens of people thrashing in the waves.

“It looked like a nightmare. We were especially concerned about the children and elderly.

“The water was crystal clear and that means it’s extremely cold.”

Wichman said he and his six crew immediately dived into the sea to pull people into their boat.

They are believed to have saved 20 to 25 people.

“Some of the people couldn’t move, they were just lying in our rubber boat, they were so scared.”

“There was another ski boat nearby which also tried to help, but they didn’t have space to hold the survivors.

“We thought we could save everyone, but then I reached out to an old man in the sea, and as soon as I grabbed him I realised he was dead,” Wichman said.

Brad Geyser, NSRI Hout Bay station commander, said: “Thirty- nine people were rescued but one person remains unaccounted for. Some had been trapped underneath the capsized boat.”

Those trapped communicated with emergency service divers by talking and knocking on the hull as they waited for help.

Fading light ended the search about 7.30pm yesterday. It was to be resumed at first light today.

The missing man, Roberts, started working on the Miroshga seven months ago.

His son, Duran Roberts, said he heard about the accident but hadn’t realised it was his father’s boat.

“I came with a neighbour whose daughter was working on a boat. When they told me my father was missing I became numb. He was a tour guide and started the job seven months ago… he loved what he was doing. All I want to know now is whether my father’s alive.”

Survivor Emma Tengskog, a Swedish tourist, said the boat took water before it capsized.

“I was up on the roof. Suddenly I saw a lot of water inside the boat. We drifted to the rocks, then there were a lot of waves coming. One big wave hit the boat and it flipped over.”

Hundreds of people gathered at the harbour to watch the drama unfold but were kept back by police, Metro EMS and NSRI staff.

Last night Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde said the SA Maritime Safety Authority had informed him that the boat had a valid legal safety certificate. It twin-hulled craft was certified to carry 42 passengers and three crew.

Weekend Argus attempted to contact the Hangberg Charters company, owners of the Miroshga, but could not do so.

In 2005, the Miroshga braved rough seas and strong winds to go to the aid of another boat that had capsized near Hermanus. The Miroshga pulled in the Masakane 1, a snoek boat that capsized off Onrus, after failed attempts to right it out at sea.

- Sunday Argus

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