As the speed boat flitted across the violent waves, seven heroes stared fixedly at the horizon.
Milnerton’s Fabian Higgins from Metro Emergency Medical Services and two of his colleagues were preparing to take the plunge.
Icy water slammed against the boat as it rounds the Sentinel at Hout Bay.
Off in the distance, the rescue divers saw other National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) boats circling the capsized Miroshga.
Somewhere trapped inside the sightseeing Miroshga three people were desperately contemplating the dangerous dark ocean.
It is the afternoon of 13 October 2012.
The Miroshga rescue and the resultant fatalities of that day would be repeatedly scrutinised for the foreseeable future.
But less focus would fall on the bravery of the people who pulled off this pioneering and daring rescue.
Now the seven-man team is one of the finalists for the Centrum Guardian of the Year Award.
This competition gives the public the chance to vote for the most deserving emergency and rescue services employees.
The rescue team that saved three women from the ill-fated Miroshga is this province’s only representatives.
Higgins has experienced his fair share of hair-raising moments in his 20-year career, but this day rises above all of the others.
“None of us knew what to expect…” he tells TygerBurger. Higgins and his colleagues are based at the rescue unit in Pinelands and got the call at 14:30.
They were told that a boat had capsized near the Boss 400 shipwreck near Sandy Bay and that there might still be people trapped in the hull.
It took the team 25 minutes to just get to Hout Bay.
When the three divers arrived at the harbour a man and his wife offered to take them to the scene in a speed boat.
Two firemen also came along in case their help was needed.
“There was a horrendous swell in the water and we were soaking wet by the time we got to the capsized boat,” he continues.
“At that stage we were aware that only one person had died of the 41 people who were on board.
“One person was missing, however, and three were trapped somewhere in the hull. Two or three NSRI volunteers were sitting on the hull and seemed to be communicating with those trapped inside.”
The speed boat stopped a few metres from the Miroshga and Higgins jumped into the water.
“The sea was very rough and tossed the boat around quite heavily. I had no idea what the boat looked like upright and it was difficult to figure out what exactly was going on under the water. I had to look for some kind of entrance to the cabin while the boat was rocking violently,” he continues, before adding that it was very dark once he entered the cabin.
All he knew was that the survivors were stuck somewhere in the hull on the starboard side. He searched around in the tumultuous environment among the floating ropes, bags and cameras.
“It was like a whirlwind has gone through the cabin! It was quite hectic… I had no idea whether the boat might sink at any moment with me in it.”
Finally he found a small entrance that resembled a cupboard and opened it. For the briefest of moments the inside of the hull was illuminated and Higgins saw legs. Against all odds the survivors found a little air pocket.
He couldn’t swim into the hull due to the size of his diving gear equipment, so he grabbed one of the legs, blew bubbles out of a breathing apparatus and finally made the survivors know he was under the water trying to save them.
The first survivor he dragged back from the watery grave grabbed on to him for dear life.
He went down again, but his air was almost used up so he had to come to the surface and give one of his colleagues a chance to be someone’s hero.
The simple fact that he played a part in this miraculous rescue is all the vindication he needs.
If, however, they win the competition then the R50 000 will be used to buy rescue equipment for the province.
Every single one of our local heroes deserves all the recognition that comes his way, but in the meantime they will settle for a vote.
The team consists of Higgins, Eben Lourens, Elvin Stoffels, Capt PJ van der Merwe, Gert Voigt, Merwin Nel and Douglas Jones.
Go to http://www.tygerburger.co.za for an audio interview with Higgins as well a gallery of photos.
* To vote for this team go to http://www.centrumguardian.com, go to the “centrum guardian” Facebook page or SMS “Drive” to 34020.