Heed safety warnings in swim season

The tragic, premature deaths of two young men last week serve as heartbreaking reminders of how easily enjoyable dips in the water can turn deadly.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/07/2018 (1678 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The tragic, premature deaths of two young men last week serve as heartbreaking reminders of how easily enjoyable dips in the water can turn deadly.

On Tuesday evening, the body of Dauphin Countryfest attendee Danny Berhie Kidane, 24, was found in a creek near the festival grounds.

On Wednesday, the body of an 18-year-old Winnipeg man was found in rapids at Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park.

The back-to-back mishaps have prompted safety officials to remind the public of water safeguards that, all too often, are ignored.

The swimmer at Pinawa Dam wasn’t wearing a life-jacket and had apparently ignored signs warning of dangerous waters.

The water around the dam is filled with hazards, including undertow and sharp rocks. Pinawa townsfolk put it bluntly: “There are no safe places to swim there.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A warning sign stands near the old Pinawa dam.

But there are still some who insist on challenging the Pinawa rapids — particularly young people who feel invulnerable — and this week’s death was not the first in the churning waters around the dam.

The death of the man at Countryfest occurred in water which, at first glance, seems less dangerous than the lethally swift currents of Pinawa. The body of Mr. Kidane, a University of Manitoba student, was found in a creek that is normally only a foot deep, a depth which usually lets festival-goers sit in lawn chairs in the refreshing water. Last weekend, however, the creek was swollen by rain.

Drowning Prevention Week will be held in Manitoba later this month, but the deaths at Pinawa and Countryfest have prompted safety officials to offer early water-safety warnings to the public.

Much of the advice is familiar: wear a life-jacket, always keep kids within arm’s reach, take swimming lessons and don’t swim alone.

The annually dispensed advice also includes swimming only when sober. Alcohol is involved in between 70 to 80 per cent of drownings in Canada.

Perhaps this advice is particularly applicable this weekend, as tens of thousands of fans attend the Winnipeg Folk Festival at Birds Hill Provincial Park. The lake at Birds Hill is not officially part of the festival site, but many festival-goers use the lake to cool off. Some, unwisely, swim while intoxicated.

It might seem alarmist to warn of drowning in water that is as shallow and calm as the man-made lake at Birds Hill Park.

But tell that to the family and friends of a 22-year man who died there in August 2016 when, after playing volleyball on the beach, he jumped into the lake and didn’t resurface.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Beach safety officers walk the beach at Bird's Hill Park beach Monday, July 3, 2017.

Outdoor swimming in Manitoba is encouraged by geography, but limited by time.

Our place on the planet is graced by a beautiful bounty of lakes and rivers that invite us to jump in and cool off.

But the chilling reality is that our outdoor swimming season lasts less than one-third of the year.

The result of this combination — so many great places to swim, so little time — is that some of Manitoba’s many cottagers, campers and daytrippers dive in with more eagerness than caution.

The distressing deaths last week of these Manitoba men stand as two more grim reminders that, whenever anyone decides to take a plunge, the rules of safe swimming are absolutely vital.

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