September 25, 2018

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Body recovered from Pinawa dam waters

Site popular with swimmers despite dangers

The body of an 18-year-old Winnipeg man was found at the Pinawa Dam Provincial Park Wednesday afternoon by RCMP dive crews more than a day after he disappeared near signs warning of dangerous waters.

The man, who has not been identified by the RCMP, wasn't wearing a life-jacket while swimming in the upper falls of the old decommissioned dam, where the rocks are notoriously slippery.

An autopsy is being conducted and officers from the Lac du Bonnet detachment are continuing to investigate the incident, RCMP say.

The dead man's friends reported him missing after they lost sight of him in the water Monday. Because of unsafe conditions Tuesday, the RCMP underwater recovery divers were forced to delay the search.

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The body of an 18-year-old Winnipeg man was found at the Pinawa Dam Provincial Park Wednesday afternoon by RCMP dive crews more than a day after he disappeared near signs warning of dangerous waters.

The man, who has not been identified by the RCMP, wasn't wearing a life-jacket while swimming in the upper falls of the old decommissioned dam, where the rocks are notoriously slippery.

An autopsy is being conducted and officers from the Lac du Bonnet detachment are continuing to investigate the incident, RCMP say.

The dead man's friends reported him missing after they lost sight of him in the water Monday. Because of unsafe conditions Tuesday, the RCMP underwater recovery divers were forced to delay the search.

<p>RCMP close the entrance to the Pinawa Dam site after a body was recovered on Wednesday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

RCMP close the entrance to the Pinawa Dam site after a body was recovered on Wednesday.

Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park, which is located in the RM of Lac du Bonnet, is about 85 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg along the Winnipeg River. The dam, which opened in 1906 and was in operation until 1956, was the province's first hydro-electric generating station. The river's full flow is now directed toward the Seven Sisters station downstream of the dam.

Swimming in the park is done frequently, although a spokesperson for the province's department of sustainable development said there is no designated swimming area. There are also a number of warning signs that clearly indicate the potential danger associated with entering the water, which the RCMP say can quickly become violent and unpredictable.

Near where the man became submerged, there is a Province of Manitoba sign stating the water is unsupervised and listing hazards like strong currents and undertow, submerged hazards, and sharp rocks. In bold letters, it reads: "No diving off bridge or dam. Swimming not advised."

Executive members of The Friends of Old Pinawa, a non-profit association that works with Manitoba Conservation to improve, promote and maintain the park, say people often ignore the clear signage and risk injury when entering the water.

"People can't be stopped," said Vivian Thomson, the group's vice-president. "There are no safe places to swim there."

<p>Warning sign posted at the dam area alerts visitors of the dangers of the area.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Warning sign posted at the dam area alerts visitors of the dangers of the area.

Thompson and her husband, Richard, who serves as the group's president, walk their dog through the park most days and reside in the town of Pinawa, about 12 kilometres away. They say the park has become increasingly popular over the last decade after an amphitheatre, new bridges, and a refurbished trail were added around the time of the dam's centennial celebration.

But while many people use the park for picnicking or hiking, a significant amount of guests go swimming despite the inherent risk.

"There are signs, but people choose to ignore them," Richard Thomson said, adding that the community is saddened by the weekend's tragedy.

Pinawa mayor Blair Skinner said there was another drowning near the dam about 10 years ago, and urged anybody going into water of any kind to be aware of the conditions and to respect warnings or signage posted.

"Unfortunately, water tragedies happen all the time," Skinner said. "Of course we're saddened, but it happens all over Manitoba every year."

<p>The rapids at the old Pinawa dam area can be unpredictable.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The rapids at the old Pinawa dam area can be unpredictable.

According to a 2017 report by the Manitoba branch of the Lifesaving Society, an average of 25 water-related fatalities occurred each year between 2010 and 2014. More than two-thirds of those occurred in rural Manitoba, and more water-related deaths happened in July than any other month over that span.

RCMP cannot officially refer to the Pinawa Dam fatality as a drowning until an autopsy has been completed.

-with files from Erik Pindera

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @benjwaldman

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The old Pinawa dam is a popular destination for swimmers.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The old Pinawa dam is a popular destination for swimmers.

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