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Drowning at Casuarina Sands prompts call for lifesavers at Canberra's rivers

By Elise Pianegonda and Tom Lowrey, Saturday January 5, 2019 - 08:06 EDT
ABC image
Casuarina Sands on the Murrumbidgee River is a popular swimming spot in the ACT. - ABC

The death of a 35-year-old man at Casuarina Sands to Canberra's west this week has prompted calls for lifesavers at popular river swimming spots.

ACT police said the man was swimming with his family in the Murrumbidgee River when he went underwater and did not resurface.

Other swimmers attempted to find and rescue the man before police divers found his body shortly before sun-down.

But police said it was not yet known how the man died and a report would be prepared for the coroner.

Royal Lifesaving ACT chief executive Cherry Bailey is now calling on the ACT Government to install lifesavers at inland swimming holes.

"One of the key factors at rivers and lakes and dams is that you don't have the supervision that's provided by lifesavers on the patrolled beaches," she said.

"That's something we're looking to implement probably towards the 2019-20 summer season.

"But Casuarina Sands is definitely looking to be a pilot location for such a program."

Ms Bailey said lifesavers at rivers could operate in a similar way to existing programs at public pools, but would require community consultation and working extensively with the Government.

"But it would definitely be some kind of voluntary model to make it sustainable," she said.

"And obviously we don't want to pilot something we're unable to carry through.

"So we'd like to get ourselves into a position where we know we can resource it properly and get it off the ground with a successful pilot model and then hopefully look to expand in future seasons."

Swimmers urged to assess ability even if just 'taking a dip'

Despite the man's death just a day earlier, many Canberrans took to the water at Casuarina Sands on Friday, with more swimmers expected over the weekend as the hot weather continues.

Ms Bailey said the perception the beach, with its possible rips, was more dangerous than rivers could lull people into a false sense of security.

"We don't know what's going on underneath the surface of the water," she said.

"Things like temperature, currents, submerged obstacles, reeds and weeds all contribute to waterway drownings unfortunately."

She said all swimmers should consider their own abilities and skills in all types of different water environments.

"That includes your ability to support another person in the water and not including alcohol consumption with swimming — particularly in those unpatrolled areas," she said.

Royal Lifesaving Australia said 249 people drowned in Australia in the 2017-18 financial year.

More than 100 died in coastal waters, 61 at rivers, creeks and streams, 33 in swimming pools, and 20 in lakes, dams and lagoons.

Three people drowned in ACT inland waterways in the same period.


© ABC 2019

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