At 07:45 on 18 December 2011, Carey Glover arrived at the Umhlanga main beach for her first active lifeguard duty. The beach was already alive with activity as holidaymakers and locals arrived to secure the best spots and not waste a minute of the warm sunshine.
After reporting to her squad leader for the day, Carey and the other squad members set up lifeguard arenas in front of two bathing areas.
Only three of the club’s 6 members were on active duty that Sunday as three of the lifeguards were training for the Provincial Lifesaving Championships at a remote end of the beach.
An experienced lifeguard was placed at the minor bathing area called granny’s pool, with a two-way radio. The squad leader asked Carey if she was up to the challenge of manning the major bathing area with him, and of course, she accepted the challenge.
The day turned out to be a challenge from the start. Sunny skies, 5-foot waves, a prominent sandbank and powerful rip currents turned the main beach into a ticking time bomb for unsuspecting swimmers. Bathers are continuously reminded to keep close to the shore, but never think they could get into trouble.
Carey had recently passed her Lifeguard Award Course, and her only actual experience was a rainy day on a deserted beach. This was her first duty on a busy beach, with only 2 experienced club lifeguards manning the major bathing area.
It is standard protocol for a new lifeguard to assist and learn from experienced lifeguards.
Carey’s squad leader was pointing out potential problem areas. As he explained how sandbanks lure weak swimmers deep into the ocean, they saw 5 people being swept away by a strong rip current from a sandbank.
The squad leader ran into the water, followed by a lifeguard who was on patrol close by.
Carey, now standing alone on the platform, knew that two experienced lifeguards were no match for 5 people in a life threatening situation, especially in the conditions of the day.
She grabbed a rescue buoy and ran into the water. She had no back-up. She was the back-up.
She could see that 4 victims had crowded around her squad leader, looking for any chance at flotation. She headed to assist her leader. She managed to take the most hysterical victim of the four, who was nearly drowning the leader, and calmly gave her instructions as she battled the surf to bring the woman safely to shore.
She gave her squad leader room to breathe and float with the remaining victims until help arrived.
Carey no doubt saved the life of the hysterical woman and prevented her squad leader from being overwhelmed by all four desperate victims.
Her actions were instinctive, impacting greatly on what was a very dangerous situation, buying time for other rescuers to get to the rescue point.
Umhlanga Rocks swimming beach is well known for its big waves and changing conditions. Permanent municipal lifeguards are supported on weekends and public holidays by the volunteer lifeguards of the Umhlanga Surf Lifesaving Club.
Volunteer squads consist of at least 3 seniors with substantial experience of the beach and its conditions. The seniors mentor the juniors over a period of time to cope with all eventualities.
The club has a proud record of not losing a life over the past 60 years thanks to the calibre of training, support and the character of the individuals who volunteer their services.
Carey’s initiative and split second choice saved not one, but several lives that day.
Umhlanga Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club Members and Management
Our Lady of Fatima Dominican Convent School
Mr and Mrs Glover
Victims: Jayde Lamb, Tayla van Straaten, Darren Clarke, Bonginkosi Nkase
First Aid Level 1-3 Training sponsored by Netcare 911 School of Emergency and Critical Care