Below Deck Star Gets Pulled Overboard in Scary Accident: 'We Were Within 30 Seconds of Him Dying'
Ashton Pienaar is lucky to be alive.
The South African Below Deck deckhand survived a terrifying accident on Tuesday’s episode, barely escaping with his life as he was pulled overboard.
“We were within 30 seconds of him dying,” Captain Lee Rosbach explained to audiences, choking back tears. “I’d have to call his parents and tell them their son is dead and I’m responsible. I don’t know how to deal with that. I have kids. And I don’t know how I’d make that call.”
“It scares the f— out of me,” Rosbach said, adding that it was the most harrowing incident he’s seen in 35 years of yachting. “To lose a crew member like that? No sir. Not going to happen. … We averted a catastrophe through luck and that’s what I want the crew to realize. How fortunate we were. We need to really care about ourselves and our loved ones. ‘Cause in the end, that’s all you got.”
Trouble started for Pienaar when the crew’s vessel was leaving the port in Puna’auia, Tahiti. Standing on the swim deck, he was helping set out the line to tow the tender behind the yacht. But unbeknownst to Pienaar, he was accidentally standing in the wrong place, with his foot on the water side of the line.
Within seconds, the tow line wrapped around Pienaar’s ankle and pulled him overboard.
Gasping for breath while being dragged under water, Pienaar let out a scream for help. Fellow deckhand Rhylee Gerber called “man overboard” over the radio.
Luckily, one of the cameramen, Brent Freeburg, immediately stepped in to help. Putting down his camera, he helped get the line loose so that Pienaar’s leg could be freed and he could swim to safety. “Thank god for Brent, the camera guy,” Gerber explained. “He didn’t hesitate for a second. He put that camera down and he did what he needed to do. I just … Ashton owes Brent his life.”
What would have happened had Freeburg not stepped in? Rosbach outlined it for the crew later on. “You have a boat that’s 500 tons rolling forward, another boat that’s two and a half tons sitting back there,” he said. “As soon as that tinder draws tight, it’s going to sever his foot and he’s going to bleed out.”
When the tension was relieved, Pienaar was able to swim to safety. He was then alone for over an hour. “When I was in the tender, there were times I wanted to throw up, there were times I was almost in tears, and then there were times I was just calm,” he said.
Later, he reflected on what the experience was like in the moment, admitting that it was “the scariest thing I ever went through in my life.”
“I thought my foot was off,” he said. “As I hit the water, I was fighting to get my head up, to get air. I realized the line is going to now take tension. That was the most intense force that I’ve ever felt in my life — the way that that line tightened around my ankle. In that moment, I mentally prepared myself for my foot to be ripped off.”
“Nobody would have got to me in time to stop the bleeding and I would have bled out in the water,” he continued. “Brent managed to get those lines up just in time. I owe my life to the guy.”
Pienaar eventually made his way back on board, where he was greeted by his crew, including bosun Ross Inia.
“Don’t scare me like that again bro,” Inia said, giving him a hug. “Just as long you’re all good bro. Don’t scare me like that. Promise you’re all right bro.”
Inia had gotten emotional after the accident, tearing up in his bunk’s bathroom. “It just puts life into perspective,” he said. “It’s like, one minute you’re here and one minute you’re gone.”
Chief stew Kate Chastain agreed. “We don’t want people to know how dangerous the job is because that would be scary. But it is. And I think Ashton and what happened today is a very good reminder,” she said.
Remarkably, Pienaar survived the incident with only a bruised ankle. “I definitely feel lucky to be alive,” he said.
Once the charter was over, he attempted to give back his share of the tip, as a way of saying thanks to his crew mates. “I want to thank you guys for the way you looked after me. You all individually came and checked on me numerous times. And to me I value that more than any tip on this table,” Pienaar said. “I didn’t do any work on this charter and personally I don’t feel that I deserve this. And [captain], if it’s okay with you, I’d like if you just split this.”
Rosbach wasn’t having it. “That’s not okay with me,” he said. “That’s not the way we roll.”
And even though Pienaar survived, Rosbach still made sure his crew took the time to learn from the experience, showing them the actual footage so they could understand the severity of the situation.
“What really surprised me watching that footage is how quickly I’m in that water,” Pienaar said, looking back. “I’m just thanking God right now that I’m sitting here watching this and that it’s not a completely different scenario. I’ve been given a second chance here. You kind of get reminded about what’s important.”
“We got extremely lucky,” Rosbach told his crew, telling Pienaar, “You’re the luckiest of all.”
Below Deck airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.