Etienne Gunter (1976 - )
The Order of Mendi for Bravery in
Profile of Etienne Gunter
On 31 January 2001 a 61-year-old swimming and surfing enthusiast was enjoying herself on a boogy-board in the sea at Voëlklip-Mond near Hermanus on the Southern Cape coast.
An abrupt change in the weather, for which the Cape is notorious, resulted in the sea turning rough unexpectedly. The hapless swimmer found herself being swept out to sea on her board by a strong, swift current. Soon she found herself near dangerous rocks, being washed off her board by strong waves.
Although other bathers on the beach had been alerted to her situation and a few attempted a rescue, they soon retreated due to the very dangerous conditions in the water. More than an hour had passed before Etienne Gunter chanced upon the small crowd of bathers who alerted him to the precarious position of the woman in the water. He immediately attempted a rescue. Repeatedly repulsed by the fierce waves he kept trying until he managed to break through the waves. By the time he reached her she was struggling to stay afloat, swallowing water and extremely weak. The turbulent conditions in the water meant that Gunter was himself repeatedly tumbled over and forced beneath the waves.
After struggling for some time against the treacherous current, Gunter was joined by a friend, and together they tried to haul the surfer back to the beach, but to no avail. Realising that it would be impossible to pull the hapless surfer through the heavy surf, Gunter made the critical decision to return to shore for a life-line while his friend assisted the surfer in staying afloat. Even though his leg was badly injured when he was smashed against rocks, the intrepid rescuer returned to the water and with the life-line now attached to his body, swam back to the surfer and his friend. With the
assistance of bathers on the beach they were slowly hauled out of the water, with Gunter being injured while shielding the now feeble swimmer from the jagged rocks.
By the time the 61-year-old swimmer was back on the beach, she was unconscious. On arrival at the hospital she had no discernible blood pressure or pulse. Yet she regained consciousness two days later and subsequently made a full recovery.
Sub-Lieutenant Etienne Gunter risked his life repeatedly, braving the treacherous sea for the sake of rescuing a fellow human being, someone he didn’t know. His determination, nerve and clear thinking under extreme conditions were a rare expression of deliberate fearlessness and spontaneous valour. All of South Africa is proud to have him as a member of our National Defence Force.
Etienne Gunter was born on 26 May 1976 in Belville, Western Cape. He graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with an Engineering Degree in 2002 and is currently a member of the South African Navy at the Simon’s Town Dockyards.