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Diary Of A Sea Rescue – Chantal Malherbe

Diary of a Sea Rescue – Chantal Malherbe

Fri, 19 April 2013

This is a diary of part of the rescue operation that saw Brett Archibald found after floating almost 30 hours off Sumatra. A search and rescue operation is complicated and convoluted, with many people and parties involved. Chantal Malherbe details the drama that unfolded:

Chantal and Gideon Malherbe have earned their chops in the Mentawais. With six years of chartering, and 70 successful Mentawais charters as well as a two-year round-the-world catamaran family mission behind them, this stuff is in their DNA. This how the rescue operation panned out:

“Gideon and I first met this spirited bunch of Westville old boys from Durban SA, when they joined us on our Mentawai charter boat the Indies Explorer in 2003. A few years later we formed All Aboard Surf Travel and continued to send Tony Singleton, JM Tostee, Mark Snowball, Brett Archibald and their buds to the Mentawais for their annual pilgrimage. By now we were sending our clients to a selection of boats, in this case using another of the legendary local charter boats, Naga Laut, owned by Sebastiano Gulinelo, based in Padang Sumatra. This year they were on their seventh trip, and their second on Naga Laut. 2013 was also all the more special for these Mentawai veterans as most of them were turning 50 this year with at least one of them celebrating his 50th during the charter.

Apart from our six years in Mentawais I also spent two years crossing the Pacific with Gideon and our two tiny sons aboard our catamaran Shimmi. Our greatest fear was losing someone overboard.

On 17 April 2013, at 4am RSA time, my phone rang at the offices of All Aboard Travel.

Tony Singleton aboard Naga Laut: “We can’t find Brett on the boat.”

I get co-ordinates of his last seen position, the speed and direction they were travelling.

4.05am I call Sebastiano (the owner of the boat) who is land-based on Surabaya. He has already reported the incident to the local authorities and is organising a search.

During further comms with the group, we agree that it is best that one of Anitas friends give her the news. Anita (Brett’s wife) then calls me at about 6am.

I call Discovery on the off chance that Brett was covered by them (he had his own travel cover). Negative. I was racing to establish whether his travel insurance covered evacuation, and if so to mobilize it. We wanted a chopper in the air asap.

I contact Tony again to ask them to search Brett’s cabin for his insurance details. I contact Regent Travel Insurance. They confirm that search and rescue is not covered. Only evacuation. Dead end.

As it turns out, for someone lost at sea, the burden is on the government to mobilise their coastguard navy etc. Sebastiano was trying from his side but the local coast guard was not reacting fast.

In order to put pressure on the Indonesia Federal Search and Rescue organisation Basarmas I spent the next few hours contacting all the big search and rescue organisations around the world: NRLI, MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre), RCC Jakarta, Australian rescue and coordination centre, Global Assistance Jakarta and NSRI. My father (Trevor Wilkins), who was involved in the NSRI, used all his connections to help get this mission mobilised.

I spoke to Michael Vlasto (OBE FRIN FNI Operations Director Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in the UK. He used all his contacts to pressurise the Indonesian government to mobilise their operations quickly. I wanted the Indonesian government to know that the world was watching. We needed air support and we needed a local command center established asap.

While all this was happening we were putting the word out to all the Mentawai boats: Co-ords: 99 degrees 55??? E, 1 degree 50??? S, the current and the wind direction. This would turn out to be the fastest and most effective form of search and rescue.

From then on we were communicating with Sebastiano, the search and rescue organisations, the private charter boats specifically Belinda from Barrenjoey. Belinda and I were the only to “ladies”in the Mentawais from 2000 – 2006. She is still there with her husband and two kiddies (5+8 years) on their boat Barrenjoey. One of the most special people in my life. Her and her husband took it upon themselves to find my missing guest.

Martin and Belinda were instrumental in getting as many boats as possible to join the rescue. On the first day Belinda went into that storm by herself on their second boat, with her two small sons, eventually losing one of the engines and returning to port. Then she boarded the Trader 3 and continued.

Each hour I updated Anita by email/cell on all the latest details of the search.

1pm SA time it was sunset in Indo. The boats were calling of the search for the night. Weather was bad, seas were rough. Some boats stayed out at sea floating with bright lights on so that Brett had something to swim towards.

5pm I communicate with Martin Daily who has without hesitation mobilized all his available fleet.

By 6pm we were on official update email VI to Anita and family.

7pm I tried to convince Anita to take a Valium and get a few hours rest. Negative. We all had to be up at midnight (sunrise the boats were heading out).

1am: I am online with Belinda on the Indies Trader III that has excellent comms. Message from Belinda “Sea state calm. It’s 100% better from yesterday. We have high hopes. Perfect day to search. Have boats coming in from North and South. One of them has to find him.”

1.30am Chatting to Martin Daily again by SMS from Singapore Airport. He has flown in from Perth to put pressure on the Indonesian authorities to get air support and was then flying on to Padang.

2.00am online with Belinda “Barrenjoey is on the radio.” She was typing to me as the radio messages came “He’s alive. Tell his wife 100% alive. Bit sun burnt but F……G ALIVE.”

Tony “Doris” Elrington, Captain of Belinda and John’s charter boat Barrenjoey, had found Brett.

2.08am I phone Anita finally to give her the news we were all praying for. What a tremendous moment.

Without the private surf charter boats conducting their own search we would not have found Brett. Despite my efforts and the efforts of Sebastiano, Martin Daly and many other organisations to get the local coast guard, navy and air force involved, no other government or official body was involved in the search. This was the camaraderie of the Mentawai surf charter boats, their surfer captains, crew and the surf community who saved this life.”

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