SAAF Oryx rescues another seafarer off KZN coast


A South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopter from Durban’s 15 Squadron has medically evacuated a sick passenger off a ship along the Durban coastline.

The 43 year-old Filipino seafarer was airlifted to Umhlanga Hospital on 6 May after falling sick aboard the bulk carrier Coral Island whilst it was sailing off the coast of Park Rynie, south of Umkomaas.

Jonathan Kellerman, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Durban station commander said the medical evacuation was carried out together with the NSRI Durban and Netcare 911 ambulance services.

Shortly after midday on Wednesday, the Oryx helicopter, a ShipsMed doctor, Netcare 911 rescue paramedics and NSRI Durban rescue swimmers were activated and preparations, including Port Health Authority authorisations, were set in motion.

The Oryx helicopter, carrying two SAAF pilots, a SAAF flight engineer, two Netcare 911 rescue paramedics, a ShipsMed doctor and two NSRI rescue swimmers rendezvoused with the ship off the KZN South Coast.

A rescue swimmer, the doctor and a rescue paramedic were winch hoisted from the helicopter onto the ship and the doctor and the rescue paramedic took over medical care of the patient from the ship’s medical crew.

A second rescue paramedic was winch hoisted onto the ship with a Stokes basket stretcher and the patient, in a serious but stable condition, was secured into the stretcher and winch hoisted with one of the rescue paramedics into the helicopter.

The remaining rescue crew were winch hoisted into the helicopter and in the care of the doctor and the two rescue paramedics, who continued with medical treatment to the patient in the helicopter, the patient was airlifted directly to hospital.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said special precaution to cover the patient in COVID-19 protective gear was taken, although the symptoms displayed by the patient were said to be of malaria.

The Chief of the SA Air Force congratulated 15 Squadron on a successful mission.

SAAF helicopters have carried out several rescues this year. In January, an Oryx was used to rescue n injured man who fell down a 100 metre cliff near Pietermaritzburg, and earlier that month an Oryx, supported by a BK 117, was used to medically evacuate five sick crewmembers from a vessel off the Durban coast. 15 Squadron was in action again in April, evacuating a sick patient off the Queen Mary 2 passenger liner off the Eastern Cape coast. In February, an Oryx from Air Force Base Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron was part of a multi-agency search and rescue operation in Western Cape that located two men after their boat sank off Cape Town.

SAAF helicopters often work with the NSRI, under the coordination of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, to rescue seafarers. For example, Oryx helicopters were used several times in 2019 to assist or airlift crewmembers. An Oryx provided support during the medical assistance provided to a fishing trawler on 12 March 2019 off Cape Point; in June, an Oryx and Lynx were used to search for three missing fishermen after their boat capsized near Hermanus; a Romanian crewmember suffering a medical emergency off Durban was airlifted to hospital in a serious condition on 9 August by a 15 Squadron Oryx and on 17 August an Oryx from 22 Squadron airlifted a crewman suffering a medical emergency off a research ship offshore of Hondeklipbaai on the West Coast.