The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) has completed yet another rescue mission from the BOS 400 wreck near Sandy Bay.
A 19-year-old medical student injured his back after jumping off the wreck’s crane structure and landing badly, narrowly escaping permanent disablement.
Also read: NSRI rescues injured teen from the Bos 400 wreck in Cape Town
According to Station 8 (Hout Bay) commander Spencer Oldham, whose crew responded to the call, the hikers gained access to the wreck’s crane structure and were jumping off the structure into the water.
‘He landed badly and felt pain in his lower back area,’ said Spencer. ‘His friends extricated him to the level rock area next to the wreck and then phoned NSRI.’
NSRI Station 2 (Bakoven) was initially alerted, but as they prepared to launch, the duty crew of NSRI Station 8, which had previously launched to assist a sinking fishing vessel, were activated to assist because their response time would be faster.
The standard operating procedure for these types of calls is for a paramedic to arrive at the scene, determine the level and mechanism of injury, stabilise the casualty (if a spinal injury is suspected, the rescue teams will perform a full spinal immobilisation on the patient), and then extract and recover to base.
‘Our first prize of extraction would be to airlift the packaged casualty, but that was not possible in this case; the EMS/AMS Skymed rescue helicopter was not available as they were committed to an inland operation,’ said Spencer.
Another rescue vessel was dispatched from Station 8 to the rescue site, accompanied by EMS rescue paramedics.
The student was stabilised and secured to a specialised stretcher before being floated to an NSRI rescue craft, from which he was transported to Station 8 and then to the hospital.
His injuries included a fractured coccyx, but he is able to walk and has returned to his studies with plenty of painkillers.
‘There have been many incidents of injuries at the BOS 400 over the years,’ said Spencer.
In 1994, the BOS 400, a French barge, ran aground while being towed by the Russian tugboat Tigr during a storm, on the same site as an earlier wreck, the SS Oakburn, a British cargo steamer. There are several other wrecks in the surrounding area.
‘The water around the BOS 400 wreck is at most 20 metres deep,’ explained Spencer. ‘The helipad and superstructure of the BOS 400 broke off early in September 2010; these have corroded over the years and now pose a hazard in the form of rusted metal that lies just below the surface of the water.’
He went on to say that the superstructure is deteriorating and has been observed to move around with the currents and winter storm sets, so if it is seen in one spot, it has most likely moved since the previous year.
Because of the kelp beds and underlying rock structure, it is extremely difficult to see the metal under the water from the crane, so people risk serious injury if they jump off the crane into the water.
According to Spencer, the majority of injuries are back injuries caused by people either slipping down the steep, rocky embankment and hitting the rocks below, or jumping off the crane arm into the water and landing badly.
People in the water are typically dragged back onto the rocks by their friends, worsening the casualties’ conditions or causing additional injuries.
Among the many other types of injuries are cardiac tamponade (pressure on the heart), bone fractures and concussions.
‘The wreck is a generally difficult area to access as it requires a long hike from either Hout Bay over the back of Hangberg or hiking from Sandy Bay along the coast. We have actually rescued more hikers from that area who got lost in the rabbit warrens of pathways through the fynbos and ended up at the BOS 400 rocks extremely dehydrated than we have actually extricated injured patients from the wreck.’
According to Spencer, the coastline is notoriously dangerous for unprepared hikers, and groups of hikers are frequently stranded by the tide without proper clothing or enough water, becoming dehydrated and hypothermic.
‘The extraction options usually involve sending in a WASAR [water search and rescue] team to extract via hiking back over the mountains or via sea. There are guided tours to the wreck site—or, at least, there used to be. We have rescued one or two of these guided tour groups over the years from the area, either due to dehydration or because a member of the tour party has injured themselves and could not go on with the hike.’
Spencer urged the public to avoid the BOS 400 wreck.
‘This wreck is extremely dangerous to access. Rather just avoid it altogether.’
Public urged to not climb aboard the BOS 400 crane barge wreck at Maori Bay
Picture: National Sea Rescue Institute