A Durban fisherman has told of how he plunged into the chilly night waters and battled for 15 minutes to rescue a drowning man.

Unemployed Attie Venter, 35, who relies on fishing for a living, said he had been on the pier below the Blue Waters Hotel when he and others spotted a man playing in the water.

Venter and his fishermen friends were fishing at the pier close to Battery Beach on Saturday night when they noticed a man going into the water.

“It was after 10.30pm and the guys and I were wandering what he was up to. We saw him come along the pier then go into the water and shouted out to him, warning him that the water was freezing and dangerous, but he didn’t respond or take notice of our warning and then we lost sight of him,” he explained.

The fishermen knew the man was heading for disaster and one of them, Timothy Daniels Reddy, alerted security as there were no lifeguards around at that hour.

He said the man disappeared from sight for about 30 minutes and they continued fishing.

“Suddenly, in the distance on the opposite side of the pier, we could hear screaming. We could see a shadow in the water. We only had a small light strapped around our forehead to help us fish,” said Venter.

Struggling to see him in the gloom, the fishermen alerted a security guard who shone his torch from the pier.

Venter, who said he had wanted to be a lifeguard while growing up in Pretoria, did not hesitate.

“When I saw where he was, I stripped down into my black shorts and swam into the sea. The security guard’s torchlight and people on the pier directed me to him.”

He said the water was cold and the current rough, but he pressed on, reaching the man.

“He was panic-stricken and grabbed hold of me. I explained to him to float on his back and that I would help him,” said Venter, who added that the unidentified 31-year-old near-drowning victim was well built and dragging him under the water.

“He then listened to my instructions. He had drifted past the pier and it was very deep.

“It took about 15 minutes to rescue him and bring him ashore,” said Venter, who lives in a flat in Anton Lembede (Smith) Street with his wife, Bernadette, and three children, aged 18 months, 12 and 17.

Meanwhile, another fisherman had alerted security guards on patrol on the beach promenade who called emergency services.

A National Sea Rescue Institute crew scrambled to launch their rescue boat, while NSRI Durban coxswain, Paul Bevis, hurried to the scene.

“They had initiated a visual search from the pier. Witnesses had spotted a man in difficulty in the surf. He could not be spotted in the night sea. Venter ran past me, reporting that he could see the man in the surf. He launched himself into the sea from the shore and swam out,” Bevis said.

The Johannesburg-born fisherman only moved to Durban three months ago, to create a living selling his freshly caught fish after moving from Saldanha Bay where he was a deep sea fisherman for many years.

“It’s a good feeling to save someone’s life. I know I took a risk and I was scared because it was so cold and the current was strong, but I couldn’t leave him there, time was running out and there was no option but try to help.

“Unfortunately I don’t know his name, I’m just glad I was there and my friends noticed him because nobody would have even noticed him get into the sea and he would not have survived because he was really tired and struggling by the time I got to him.

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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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