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Rescued scuba divers describe how they drifted for three hours off PE

Dive student Rezano Damoense, 36, and instructor Juan Snyman, 45. They were rescued after a massive three-hour search operation.
Dive student Rezano Damoense, 36, and instructor Juan Snyman, 45. They were rescued after a massive three-hour search operation.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Two Port Elizabeth scuba divers were found, exhausted but alive, drifting more than 8km away from where they went missing on Sunday morning.

The alarm was raised shortly after 9am when dive instructor Juan Snyman, 45, and Advanced Open Water Dive student Rezano Damoense, 36, surfaced a few kilometres from where they had initially started their dive.

The men were part of a group of five divers who were doing a recreational dive at Zephyr’s Wall, a dive site about 5km from the Cape Recife Nature Reserve.

Snyman, co-owner of Elite Scuba in Walmer, was taking Damoense on his first 30m deepdive to qualify for the next leg of his training.

Snyman said later the alarm had been raised after the skipper failed to see them when they surfaced from their morning dive.

“We surfaced about 100m from the boat,” he said.

“We were obviously taken adrift by the current, which is very common when you dive.

“Usually, you raise your surface marker buoy and the skipper sees where you are and comes to collect you.

“Our two marker buoys were inflated and raised but because of the angle of the sun and the glare on the sea, the skipper and people on the boat were looking directly into the sun.

“We saw them but they could not see us.”

Snyman said when he realised they had not been spotted, they started blowing the emergency whistles fitted to their gear.

“When he [skipper] could not find us, he raised the alarm for more people to join the search.”

The two divers, meanwhile, had already inflated their buoyancy control device to allow them to float with little effort.

Two sea rescue boats joined a search involving five other boats and the metro Emergency Medical Services helicopter, while police divers prepared to search the original dive site.

The seven boats‚ spaced 100 metres apart‚ were used to conduct a sweeping line search following the direction of the currents and wind.

Two divers were rescued after they drifted more than 8km away from where they went missing.
Two divers were rescued after they drifted more than 8km away from where they went missing.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Snyman said they had realised that they were drifting further out to sea, away from the searchers and into Algoa Bay.

“We attempted to swim towards the [Cape Recife] lighthouse, but the more we tried the more tired we got and we just kept drifting further out to sea.

“At one stage, I got cramps in my legs.”

Damoense said he knew they would be found because of Snyman’s 17 years of diving experience.

“He explained that we had to stay in line with the boats that were searching.

“At one stage, we started drifting apart and then held onto each other’s gear to stay together.

“We discussed dropping all our dive gear and making a swim for the shore, but the current was just too strong.”

Both eventually dropped their dive weights in an attempt to lessen the drag.

The wind and sound of the boat’s motor muffled their calls for help as they swam.

Damoense said that at one stage they spotted a “dark thing” heading towards them, which gave them both a fright.

“That was scary but it turned out to be a seal, which then went away.”

They were eventually found by an NSRI rescue boat at 12.30pm.

The two men joked that if they had not been found, they would have likely come ashore near the marine protected area at Coega, and would probably have spent the night in jail because no one would have believed that they had drifted that far and the police would have thought they were poachers.

Asked if he would be hesitant to dive again, Damoense said he was more keen to dive than ever.

“You cannot learn this in a textbook – only experience can teach you what to do and I am lucky that he [Snyman] was there to teach me,” he said.

NSRI station commander Ian Gray said water visibility had been poor, which had prompted the rest of the group to abort their dive early while Snyman and Damoense had stayed underwater.

He said if Snyman had not kept his calm, they would not have been found easily.

“He knew what he was doing and kept his calm,” he said.

“If it was not for the way they handled the situation, they would possibly still be out at sea. He is the reason they are still alive.”

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