East London teenager Luke Swinney emerged as one of the heroes of the 2021 Berg River canoe marathon when he helped save the life of a fellow canoeist early on in the final stage of the race.
Swinney was second in the junior boys category and racing in a fast bunch of paddlers early on Sunday when AdReach Soweto Canoe Club paddler Siseko Ntondini suffered an epileptic fit and fell into the river ahead of them.
Swinney, who is a lifesaver with East London Surf, was in the following group and wasted no time in diving out of his kayak to locate Ntondini, who had been under water for some time, and dragged him to the surface and pushed him up onto the nose of fellow paddler Jermaine Pietersen’s kayak.
“I knew it was serious because he wasn’t breathing and his eyes were rolled back,” said Swinney.
With the help of fellow paddlers Christian Callebaut, Gert van Deventer, and Nicky de Villiers they managed to stabilise Ntondini and get him breathing again and got him to the bank, while another paddler Bryden Armstrong had a cellphone in a dry bag and was able alert the race medics.
Neurosurgeon Crispin Thompson was next on the scene and helped with the rescue effort.
WCCU chairperson Rob Hart was in the group just behind the paddlers who effected the rescue and says that Ntondini owes his life to the remarkable response of the entire group.
“It was remarkable to see how Swinney went in to get Ntondini and then every single paddler in that group grasped that this was a potential drowning and did what they could to help,” said Hart. “Every single one of them is hero,” he said.
Ntondini was escorted to Berg River Station by the group of paddlers where he was treated by ambulance personnel and taken to Velddrif for observation.