When the dive master of African Dive Adventures was swept offshore into the Atlantic Ocean off Shelly beach, Jean-Pierre Els first thought of God. After drifting over 30kms from where he originally went missing, it is clear the Els decided to take his own survival more personally and use the techniques that we teach during our H.E.A.T courses.
Over the past few months several instances of divers going missing have occurred in South Africa. Whether the cause is rough seas, high swells or powerful winds the net result is that divers drift for many kilometers.
What do you do if you find yourself in the water without a boat or a raft? Ideally, you should be wearing a buoyancy vest (if using scuba) or an inflatable safety vest – both will keep you floating. You can also use the HELP position by spreading your arms and legs wide and keeping your head below water. Frequently raise your head above the water and breathe. Another flotation technique is to remove your trousers, tie-off the bottom and pull the trousers through the air to create a flotation device. Raise the trousers over your head in the water and they will act like a life jacket.
Hypothermia is a life-threatening danger because it reduces your core body temperature. To minimize the impact of hypothermia and retain body heat, if you’re in cold water, pull your knees to your chest and float.
As Els’s experience demonstrated, after several hours at sea he was rescued by a fellow diver and was found to be exhausted, dehydrated and partially sunburned. To minimise sunburn you need to protect the back of your ears, the skin under your chin and your eyelids because the sun reflects off the water and you get sunburned from below as well as above.
Dehydration is another life-threatening danger, yet water is vital to your survival. Unfortunately, drinking sea water will kill you even if your first few gulps will give you immediate relief and slake your thirst. However, your kidneys will not be able to process the high concentration of salt and hallucinations will occur within a few hours.
Another concern to your health will be the salt water sores caused by a break in your skin that has been exposed to salt water for a period of time.
Els survived by luck and the hard work of the Transnet national ports authority rescue helicopter and a rescue swimmer.
Whilst floating in the sea Els must have reflected on the assistance that God could give him, but must have also thought about the necessary preparation before he went to sea.