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Sun Oct 26 08:03:05 SAST 2014

Divers tell of miracle at sea

CANAAN MDLETSHE | 12 November, 2012 00:48
Scuba divers Roland Mauz and Stuart Skene survived a three-and-a-half hour ordeal separated from their boat and drifting further out to sea Picture: THILU DLAMINI

Swept more than 40km out to sea, nine divers trod water for nearly four hours off KwaZulu-Natal's south coast until a passing charter boat spotted them and came to their rescue.

The nine - eight South Africans and a Belgian - had been diving at Protea Banks, off Shelly Beach, yesterday when they were separated from their boat.

Unbeknown to the skipper of the boat, the Black Tide, the rope securing the marker buoy was severed and floated off with the boat following slowly behind.

When the group surfaced they were far out to sea with the skipper unable to detect their radio calls for help.

With the alarm raised, the police - along with the National Sea Rescue Institute and Transnet Ports Authority, paramedics and private boat owners - immediately launched a sea and air rescue operation.

Dive master Ronald Mauz, 40, describing the ordeal, said that when they surfaced they were 40km from land with no boat in sight.

"We had a radio and we called for a boat but nobody could hear our coordinates.

''We were drifting with the current, going south and into deeper water," he said.

"Fortunately nobody panicked. We kept saying positive things to each other, which is important, especially when you are in a situation like ours.

"During the first hour you keep telling yourself that things will be okay, that you will be rescued.

"But in the second hour, it starts sinking into your mind that the situation is actually serious.

"But, even during that time, we kept hoping that we would be rescued. I must say, it was hard. The sun was burning us."

Mauz said that when they were rescued all he wanted to do was see his wife.

"Thank God" were the first words she said when she saw him.

Even after the ordeal, Mauz is adamant that he will not hesitate to go back into the sea.

Fellow diver Stuart Skene, 42, thanked the community for standing together in the search.

"Being lost in the sea is not fun and being more than 40km away is definitely not fun.

"What is important when you are in that situation is to keep the group together and keep their minds occupied," he said.

The NSRI's Shelly Beach station commander, who oversaw the rescue , Mark Harlen, said the search began at 9.35am after the dive boat skipper reported that the whereabouts of nine scuba divers were unknown.

"It appears that the Black Tide's skipper followed the dive marker buoy, not knowing it had been separated from the divers who were under water.

"The cause of the rope snapping is unknown.

"It would have been impossible for the Black Tide's skipper to have known that the buoy had been separated from the divers," he said.

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