Site links

News Archive



RESCUE 911: 35 Squadron to the rescue

Article by: Lt Col Gerrie van der Merwe, Navigator Leader 35 Squadron, AFB Ysterplaat.

Photos by: Sgt Nathan Geduld, 2 ASU (Detached) Recognisance Systems Section, AFB Ysterplaat.

This is the story of Rescue 911, so called because it was the first rescue of the first day of the first month in 2009. The call came at 04h57 on 01 January 2009. After a very quiet festive season and two weeks of sleeping late, I answered the phone half asleep, wandering who would call me this time of the morning. “Colonel, this is AMN Ndawo from AFB Ysterplaat Command Post, you are called out for a search and rescue operation”. It was as if the operations clerks dumped an ice-cold bucket of water over me. Now totally awake, the first call was made to the Maritime Rescue coordinating Centre (MRCC), situated on Plattekloof hill in the Cape. Danny, the rescue co-coordinators on duty, informed me that two teenagers are reported lost at sea with a rubber duck in the Hermanus area. The search area is between Danger point and Hangklip up to 20 nms seaward, with Hermanus NSRI as search coordinator.

The crew of Rescue 053: Sgt Nathan Geduld, Capt Grant Wilcock, Lt Col Gerrie van der Merwe, WO1 Chris Pedlar, Lt Darius le Roux, Sgt Jakes Jacobs, Sgt Warren Andreas, WO2 Lionel Ashbury

Arriving at 35 Squadron, AFB Ysterplaat, a quick exchange of new years greetings took place before planning started. The aircraft was in the process of being towed out to the flight line while the aircrew communicated with the search co-coordinator, Mr Henk Henn, stationed at Hermanus NSRI for any additional information. The pilots, Capt Grant Wilcock and Lt Darius le Roux, ensured that all the documentation for the flight are completed, while the navigator, myself, Lt Col Gerrie van der Merwe, continued to plan the route, search pattern and fuel requirements. The flight engineer, WO1 Chris Pedlar, was in the process of executing a pre-flight inspection, and the telecom operators, WO2 Lionel Ashbury, Sgt Jakes Jacobsz and Sgt Warren Andreas, ensured that all the communication equipment, frequencies and contact details of relevant role players are in place and that survival equipment are on board. The aerial photographer, Sgt Nathan Geduld, ensured that his photographic equipment is ready for the flight.

After a thorough briefing, the crew walked out to the aircraft. Although the Base was very quiet, with our aircraft being the only one on the flight line, all essential services such as the Command post, fire brigade, and air traffic controller and duty crew, were ready to support the operation. Rescue 053, our callsign, got airborne in very quiet airspace. “No aircraft flying today, except us” the co-pilot noted after he made a compulsory radio call on the area air traffic frequency. Operational checks outbound followed as soon as we crossed the coast into False Bay. It was a beautiful day with a calm sea and little wind. This was all about to change soon. Passing Hangklip, the eastern boundary of False Bay, en route to Danger Point, situated 15 nms east of Hermanus, the crew sharpened their lookout for any beached rubber duck along the coast. The weather conditions changed to broken rain clouds at about 2000 feet and the wind blowing mild south easterly.

Survivors hoisted with Alouette III of Overberg Disaster Management

After a quick circle of Dyer Island, known for it’s great white shark diving expeditions, we entered a creeping line ahead search pattern from Danger Point to 20 nms south. The weather continued started to deteriorate, as we entered rain about 12 nms off the coast. The wind picked up to about 20 kts south easterly. We continued the search, and reduced the track spacing, as visibility in the area reduced. We all knew that we are searching for a grey rubber duck with grey skies above lost in a grayish sea with poor visibility and only a weather radar situated at the pilot station and limited communication and navigation equipment, as this was a Dakota C47-TP transport version. During the fifth leg of the pattern, at 09h18, the commander spotted something in the water and directed the navigator, at that stage operating the binoculars, in that direction. We found them! “MARK MARK”, survivors right 2 o’clock 1 mile! Two flame floats gone!” Like “action stations” on a battle ship, the crew continued with their trained survival equipment (SARAFT) drop procedure. The flame floats are used to mark the original position to use as a reference point to find the survivors again. This procedure proved to be very successful, as visual contact with the rubber duck was lost during the turn towards the flame floats. The commander reduced height and speed and turned to over fly the survivors, while the co-pilot set up the GPS to mark their position and the experienced WO2 Ashbury was ready to drop 2 flame floats. “Standby on top, on top two one now!” “Two flame floats gone” It was evident that the two people in the rubber duck was indeed very glad to see us. A found message was transmitted to MARO, the Maritime Air Radio Organisation, as part of the JTAC HQ Western Cape, stationed at Silvermine. MARO relayed the message to Hermanus NSRI. The navigator plotted the position as 16 nms south west of Hermanus. While waiting for the rescue party, we continued to mark the survivors, as the burn time for a flame float is approximately 10 minutes. With another 4 hours of fuel available, we calculated that it would take at least an hour before a ship borne rescue party would reach the scene and therefore continued to mark the survivors. However, at 09h40, only 20 minutes later, the Overberg Disaster Management Alouette III arrived on the scene to hoist the survivors. Sgt Nathan Geduld continued to capture the rescue on camera. We escorted the helicopter to ensure it’s safety, and after brief “happy new year” messages between the rescue crew, continued homebound to Ysterplaat.

The two survivors, Bradwell Europa and Ferzel Sheriff

After a safe landing, debrief and mission reporting, the crew realised that they conducted a very successful search and rescue operation under very difficult circumstances. It was indeed a commendable effort of the crew and all parties involved.

The SA Air Force again proved that it is ready to serve people when called upon any time any day. It was the first day of January 2009, a day that will always be remembered by the crew of Rescue 053 and the two survivors,16 year old Ferzel Sheriff and 14 year old Bradwell Europa.


Print Version    Top