Floating balloons trigger frenetic search for 'missing swimmers'

Aron Hyman Reporter
NSRI rescue boat. File photo.
NSRI rescue boat. File photo.
Image: NSRI via Twitter

A bunch of party balloons are suspected to have been behind reports of distressed swimmers being swept out to sea in Cape Town on Saturday.

A search and rescue helicopter and a rescue boat joined the search for two swimmers suspected to have been swept out to sea offshore of Maidens Cove, between Clifton and Camps Bay.

This was after the National Sea Rescue Institute received eyewitness reports of two swimmers being swept out to sea, with yellow and orange floating objects with them.

“The NSRI Table Bay sea rescue craft Spirit of Day was launched, while NSRI Bakoven and NSRI Table Bay shore crew searched along the shoreline,” said Bakoven station commander Luke van Riet.

“A preliminary search in strong winds and rough seas revealed no sign of swimmers in difficulty and Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services and their dive unit and law enforcement officers were activated and they joined in the search

“The EMS/AMS Skymed rescue helicopter, a WSAR [Wilderness Search and Rescue] team were activated and the NSRI Hout Bay sea rescue craft Nadine Gordimer and Albie Matthews were launched to join in the search,” he added.

An NSRI coastwatcher was also scanning the sea with the use of high-powered binoculars from a vantage point and local media were alerted to determine whether members of the public knew of two swimmers who may have been swimming offshore of the area.

After an extensive search of the coastline rescuers could not find the reported swimmers. Instead, they came across a bunch of at least five party balloons floating in the water.

“It is strongly suspected, in the strong winds that were causing white crests in the surf, that this is what the eyewitnesses may have observed,” said Van Riet.

He said that with no-one reported missing or overdue, the search was suspended with no further reports relating to the incident.

Van Riet said they believe that it was a “false alarm with good intentions” and commended the eyewitnesses for raising the alarm as a precaution. He commended all the role players for their swift action and thorough search.

He appealed to residents not to let party balloons loose in strong winds along the shoreline.

“Similar to sky lanterns, that when set off give the mistaken impression of red distress flares, party balloons floating loose on the ocean may give the mistaken impression of swimmers in distress,” said Van Riet.

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