Caption: ReturneeGuest Chris Fenton,Jonacani Masi and Outrigger Fiji General Manager Peter Hopgood.Photo: SUPPLIED
“Knowing how to swim properly is so important! It saved my life, it saved Mr. Stephan’s life and it will save many other peoples’ lives!” These are the words of Outrigger on the Lagoon ∙ Fiji Activities Attendant Jonacani Masi, an overnight hero at the Coral Coast resort after he saved the lives of two guests whose kayak got caught out at the reef.
Masi, as he is known at the Outrigger was on bay watch tower duty on the morning of the incident. He recalls the lagoon being full of guests’ snorkelling and kayaking as the tide was about 2.5 meters high.
“Our lagoon was full of guests so I had my work cut out for me. When I looked over to our lagoon marker in the water I saw two guests from a neighbouring hotel in a double kayak moving towards the reef. I kept watching them because they were too close to the reef and I was wondering what they were up to”, he recalls.
He said from where he was standing he could see the kayak attempting to go beyond the reef but kept getting pushed back in by the large waves. He knew the kayak was from a neighbouring hotel because the Outrigger guests are cautioned to snorkel or paddle within the markers in the lagoon.
“I diverted by attention back to our guests for a second and when I looked back to where the kayak was near the reef, I saw it flip over”, Masi said.
He quickly called another Activities Attendant to take over from his bay watch duties, grabbed a life saving tube and swam out to the where the kayak had flipped at the reef.
“I knew they were in trouble and I just thought that I had to help them. I didn’t think about myself or hesitate for a second. My first instinct was to help them because I know how dangerous it is on the reef”.
When he got to where he saw the kayak flip, he saw a young boy had been pushed onto the reef but was uninjured. He instructed the boy to hold onto the kayak asking him who was the second person on the craft.
“I asked him his name, if he was hurt and who was in the kayak with him. He said it was his father Stephan and they were staying at a neighbouring hotel. I asked the boy to stay on the reef with the kayak and telling him that I would swim out to look for his father”.
Masi said the 12 foot waves were pounding on the reef and prevented him from swimming past the breakers. He said having lived on the Coral Coast his whole life he is familiar with how waves break and had to wait for a chance to swim out.
“I was calling out Stephan’s name but I didn’t get a response. When I managed to swim out past the breakers I was in the water for a good 15 minutes swimming around and calling out his name. After about 20 minutes I saw Stephan about 20 meters from me. He was holding onto the paddle with one arm and resting his head on his arm”.
Masi said he swam to Stephan, strapped the life saving tube around his chest and asked him if he was injured.
“He could barely put his head up. He said his left leg was injured and it looked like deep coral grazes from the reef. However, he said his chest and head were ok. When I was trying to rescue him he started vomiting blood and I was so worried. He must have swallowed a lot of sea water”.
With a life jacket on, Masi strapped Stephan to his back using the life saving tube and tried to swim to safety. With an injured leg Stephan was unable to swim so Masi asked him to kick with one leg.
“Stephan was at least 6.2 (feet) and was a fairly large gentleman and I, with him on my back was trying to swim towards an opening in the reef. We kept being dragged towards the reef by the waves. By then two other Outrigger staff had arrived on the rescue board”.
Masi said they could not hear his shouts over the waves but he made signals for them to stay on the other side of the reef. By then he said he would have been in the water with Stephan for over an hour.
“Swimming with an injured person strapped to your back is so very tiring. But I practiced resting swimming by recovering on my back whenever I was tired. I had learnt this technique from Australian Olympic gold medallist Shane Gould and her husband Milton Nelms who conducted swimming technique lessons for us at the resort”.
Masi and Stephan drifted out towards Korotogo where they were rescued by a boat that was arranged by the Outrigger staff. The father and son were then rushed to the Sigatoka District Hospital.
He believes that this resting swimming technique and rescue training taught at the resort by a former attendant Michael Osborne saved his and Stephan’s life.
“What kept going through my mind was what I had been taught by Shane and Milt and my friend Michael. I put it into practise that day and it saved our lives. I am so thankful to God for giving me the strength to do what I did that day and I also thank Shane and Milt for their drowning prevention program that they conduct in Fiji”.
Prior to this ordeal Masi had requested the resort management to allow him to conduct swimming lessons for the children at the resort’s staff quarters.
He said he doesn’t think of himself as a hero because he was only doing what he had been taught.
“I’m not a hero. Someone was in danger and I had to help them. I just thank God that I have learnt these swimming and life rescue techniques and I am now trying to impart this knowledge to our resort kids. We are surrounded by the sea in Fiji and what we think is the proper swimming technique is wrong and we need to be taught the proper way to swim because it can save your life or the life of another person”, Masi concluded.
General Manager of Outrigger on the Lagoon ∙ Fiji, Peter Hopgood stated that the drowning prevention program introduced at the resort with Shane Gould and Milt Nelms was undoubtedly a major reason why Masi and Mr. Stephan did not drown.
“The drowning prevention program will continue into 2014 with children from surrounding villages being taught drowning prevention techniques”, Mr. Hopgood added.