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29er Worlds: The harrowing, untold story – until today – about the near-drowning of a competitor, and the heroic rescue by fellow competitors Simon Hoffman (AUS) and Santiago Alegre (ESP)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

LONG BEACH, CA – One moment, teen sailor Simon Hoffman [AUS] was taking a key step ­towards his Olympic dream by competing in the 29ers World Championship off Los Angeles. The next, he was in the midst of a life-and-death struggle more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster, under the hull of an upturned boat. The 18-year-old from New­castle in NSW is a Christian and he believes divine intervention brought him to this moment. ­Approaching the first leg of the final race off Los Angeles’s Long Beach last Saturday, he heard frantic screaming from a capsized boat 40m away. The championship had been a key stepping stone in his dream to become an Olympian, but Hoffman now believes his higher purpose was to abandon the race, and instead save a life.“Help! He needs help now!” a female voice cried out. Hoffman’s close mate, 17-year-old Irish youth champion and fellow competitor Johnny Durcan [IRL], was wrapped in ropes and submerged under his race yacht. “I saw the boat was capsized, then I realised it was one of my best mates and I couldn’t see his head,” he said. “I didn’t tell my skipper; I just jumped. ”Hoffman knew the clock was ticking and that with each passing second the chances of Durcan being successfully revived were decreasing. He had to make some instinctive decisions. “I ripped off my lifejacket, because I wasn’t going to get down there with my lifejacket on,” he said. Hoffman and Spaniard Santiago Alegre [ESP], who also abandoned the race, worked desperately to ­release Durcan to get him to the surface. Asked how long Durcan was trapped underwater, Hoffman replied: “It could have been three minutes. Eventually, we managed to pull him out between the mast and the jib while ripping the ropes off from around him.” A motorboat had arrived ­nearby to assist, but Hoffman and ­Alegre still had to swim the lifeless Durcan a few metres to get him on board.Nick Tabakoff, associate editor of the prestigious Weekend Australian, writing in today's issue. 

 

The dramatic full story is behind a paywall, so you may or may not be able to access it without subscribing. Your Ed. managed to gain access.

 

Suffice to say that Mr Hoffman had recently received "intensive first-aid training as part of his bid to become a fully-fledged sailing coach. He took charge, and likely saved his Irish mate's life who, after CPR administered by Hoffman and Santiago, was revived. A Coast Guard boat arrived and rushed Durcan to a Long Beach hospital where he was admitted and recovered, and was later visited by Hoffman (photo below).

 

Two other revealing excerpts from the article:

 

“Some of the other boats yelled out ‘I think he needs help’ as they sailed past,” Hoffman said. “I found that really weird.

 

From his hospital bed, Durcan wasted no time in sending a message to the general email ­address of Australian Sailing to have Hoffman’s efforts officially acknowledged. “Simon Hoffman quite literally saved my life yesterday at the 29er worlds, and is the reason I’m alive to write this from hospital,” he wrote. “Maybe I can nominate him for some sort of special award.” Australian Sailing president Matt Allen said yesterday: “Simon’s efforts show great bravery. We will do everything we can to ensure he is recognised. Everybody is so proud.” Durcan and Hoffman, both safely back home, now have a lifelong bond.

 

You have to wonder why this is the first time, more than a week later, that we are hearing about this? The class and host club, and many of the competitors must have known full well what had transpired. To reprise Mr Hoffman's quote, "I find that really weird."

 

If this is all fair-dinkum, and your Ed. has no reason to believe it is not, than US SAILING should swing into action, discover all the facts, find out why other sailors did not come to Mr Durcan's rescue, and what might be done to prevent future such mishaps. Finally, US SAILING does have awards to recognize exemplary rescue behavior, and presumably not just for Americans but heroic acts by non-American sailors in American waters?

 

Simon Hoffman (AUS) and Johnny Durcan (IRL) in a Long Beach hospital after Hoffman and Spain's Santiago Alegre rescued and revived Durcan after his near drowning from being trapped under his capsized 29er at the World Championship hosted by Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach the week before last. Photo courtesy of the Weekend Australian, photographer not disclosed.

 

Johnny Durcan (IRL) was also visited in hospital by Santiago Alegre (ESP). Photo courtesy of Club Nautic Garraf's website, photographer not disclosed. 

 

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