ALMOST 25 years ago a nine-year-old boy set out from L’Etacq on a small boat with his father on what should have been a pleasant fishing trip.
But things quickly took a turn for the worse when a rogue wave swamped their dinghy – causing it to capsize.
The father, Joao de Sousa, swam with his son, Elvis Vieira, to a nearby marker buoy – tying him to it – before attempting to swim a mile to shore to get help and disappearing into the night.
Crews from the RNLI St Helier station responded and, almost by chance, spotted the young boy’s head in the water – around five hours after he entered the sea. He was plucked from the sea by then lifeboatman Paul Battrick, who was later pictured by a JEP photographer carrying Elvis into a waiting ambulance. Mr De Sousa’s body was found a month later on a beach near St Catherine.
Although Mr Battrick and Mr Vieira only had a brief encounter on that night – 1 May 1997 – they both recently developed a close bond, with Mr Vieira presenting Mr Battrick with the JEP photo taken on the night of the rescue as a Christmas gift.
Speaking about that fateful day, Mr Vieira, now aged 35, said: ‘I remember my dad and I went out fishing and we went with the boat down the slipway at the L’Etacq end, towards the direction of Faulkner’s Fisheries which I now know is where the Channel waters [currents] cross but I did not know that at the time.
‘The sea was great that day, there was no movement whatsoever but when we came back it started getting rough. The waves came into the back of the boat and it capsized. I had a lifejacket on and I was hanging onto the fishing buoy but I remember it getting dark and I lost my dad. I was scared and I did not know if I was going to make it.
‘The RNLI found me near the lighthouse at Corbière six hours later.’
Mr Vieira added that the pair had not spoken since the time of the incident when, by chance, they stumbled across each other while he was working in a shop.
‘I used to work at the Co-op at Sion and then one day, because I had my name tag, he walked in and said “Elvis?” and I could not believe it was him. I just hugged him. Since then we have just kept in contact.
‘I was speaking to my kids – my 12-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old-son – I said to my little man “you have got Spiderman but daddy has a real-life hero. This chap saved daddy’s life”,’ he said. ‘I look at Paul as a family member. He is a very special person and he has given me a second shot at life.’
Mr Battrick said that after their chance encounter at the Co-op, the pair had met on many occasions and recently exchanged Christmas gifts.
‘As you do for Christmas, I sent him a card and a couple of gift vouchers for the kids. I was at home getting ready to go out and the doorbell goes and it was him with his kids presenting me with that picture in the frame. It was amazing,’ he said.
‘There were a lot of harrowing rescues we were involved in, the St Malo [Channiland ferry] incident for instance, but that is just one that has stuck in my mind because of the nature of his father tying him to a buoy – what a selfless act by his dad to save his son’s life. I only played a small part on the night but it was a privilege to do it.’