Interview with Fabio Spiteri

September 27, 2012 in General

On the 8th December 2006, Fabio Spiteri – a local triathlon athlete – participated in the Puttinu Cares annual triathlon. The race began in Birżebbuga, where the participants cycled up to Ċirkewwa, canoed across to Gozo, ran for 10km, and then returned back to Birżebbuga via the same route.

Fabio and three other participants were leading the race on the return leg, and were the first to arrive at departure point for the return back to Malta by canoe. “Since the route we took to Gozo passed along the outer side of Comino, we assumed we would be returning the same way.” Fabio explained. So they got into their canoes – two doubles – and left before the other participants showed up.

However, bad weather was on its way, and the organisers sent word to the participants to pass by the Blue Lagoon side of Comino instead.

Since Fabio and the other three participants were ahead of the pack, this information did not reach them in time.

“…the canoe filled with water and began to sink.”

As the two canoes reached Comino, the wind picked up, the rain started and the sea conditions quickly deteriorated. Fabio and his team mates were not experienced canoeists and had opted not to use a cover to prevent water entering the canoe, as it could make it difficult for them to exit the canoe in the event that they capsized. Fabio described what happened as “The weather quickly got worse and in a very short time, the canoe filled with water and began to sink. My canoe-mate and I swam out of the canoe, and concentrated on not getting smashed against the rocks. I was very worried about the other canoeists, as we had lost sight of them and unlike me, they were not long-distance swimmers.”

Fabio was not concerned at first, as he fully expected the rest of the race participants would soon pass by. After half an hour of no one showing up, he became slightly concerned, but was still confident someone would find them. Soon, his father and brother – who had been following the race in their fregatina (small fishing boat) – found them and tried to pull them out of the water. The seas were too rough, and the rescue attempt was unsuccessful. Fabio’s father sped to the Blue Lagoon, where the rest of the participants had paused to regroup, and alerted E.F.R.U. and the organisers.

E.F.R.U. members on board a 21 ft Rescue Rib, along with an AFM patrol boat, rushed to the scene. The rough seas and rain made it very difficult to locate them, but Fabio and his team mate were eventually located by the E.F.R.U. team, who succeeded in bringing them to safety on board the E.F.R.U. Rib. Fabio and his team mate were then transferred to the AFM patrol boat and safely delivered into the hands of the E.F.R.U. First Aid team waiting at Ċirkewwa. The other canoeists were found around a mile offshore and luckily, their canoe had capsized and not sunk, which meant they were able to hold on to it for support until the E.F.R.U. rescuers arrived and pulled them aboard the rib.

Aside from being extremely cold after having been in the cold December water for a while without a wetsuit, Fabio was unhurt and decided to continue – and finish – the race. The bad weather continued and despite strong winds threatening to topple the bicycles and their riders at certain points in the route, all participants completed the race.

Deborah Cefai
EFRU Rescuer & K9 Handler

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