Disaster struck at Henley Beach while Adelaide firefighter Justin Ocenasek was throwing a ball to his mate in 2007.
His unique gold ring, a memento hand-forged by one of his Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) colleagues, was lost in the waves.
“I got the ring fitted to my right hand because I’m a left-hander, but my right hand was bashed up from playing football, so I moved it to my left,” Mr Ocenasek said.
“I went to throw the ball with my left hand and, as I’ve thrown it, the ring has gone flying off in the same direction and fallen in the water.
“We were looking around with our feet trying to find it, but after about an hour we pulled the plug on the search.
“I have thought about getting Kym (the jeweller) to make me a new one, but it wouldn’t be that same graduation ring.”
But in a story fit for the annals of JRR. Tolkien, the ring sat dormant in the sands off Henley Beach for 13 years before being discovered by an unlikely hero.
A fateful find
For landscaper and semi-professional metal detectorist Bruce Phillips, it was just another day.
“I like to hunt the area, particularly after storms because it moves the sand around and items that have been buried for a while tend to show up,” Mr Phillips said.
“This day I hadn’t found too much, just a couple of old coins, but I was just beyond the break line next to the jetty, and I picked up this ring.
“It came up in the scoop and I looked at it and I thought ‘well, it’s definitely gold’, but I couldn’t really make out what the marking was — I thought it was a tulip!”
But the engraving was something far more interesting.
“I got home and gave it a bit of a clean with a gentle polish and noticed there was writing on one side,” he said.
“I thought SAMFS? That doesn’t make sense. Oh wait, SA MFS!
“I realised when I turned the ring around that I was looking at a fireman’s helmet.”
A story fit for the modern age
With nothing but the ring in hand, Mr Phillips set out on a quest to return it to its rightful owner.
“I did a quick Google search because Google is your friend in these sorts of things and found there weren’t any official MFS rings,” he said.
“I reached out to the MFS and a gentleman who works there said he would look back through his books and got in contact with Justin.
“At the same time, his wife had actually seen my Facebook post or she got a tip-off and she said ‘oh my god, this is my husband’s ring’.”
Mr Ocenasek said he was absolutely floored when the ring was found.
“It’s beyond a needle in a haystack type scenario — it’s one ring in all the ocean and he found it,” he said.
“My sister lives in America and I mentioned to her on the phone that there’s a fair chance the ring is closer to her than to me after all these years.
“It’s Christmas time and miracles happen — it’s all quite unbelievable.”
Mr Ocenasek offered Mr Phillips a reward, but he turned it down.
“All I would like is to get a photo with [Mr Ocenasek] at the MFS station returning the ring so I can put it in my collection,” he said.
The ring will be returned next week.