Swimming tips can help prevent another tragedy

It might never be known what caused a 22-year-old man to disappear in the lake at Luther Britt Park eight days ago and subsequently die from drowning.

But we feel safe in saying this: Most people, even the strongest of swimmers, overestimate their ability to swim, and practically everyone who enters the water is at some risk.

In the emotion that followed, the man’s widow said that not enough was done to save her husband; she pointed her fingers at the lifeguards who were working at the city-managed recreation facility and on duty that day, an accusation that prompted this newspaper to ask some questions.

We found no evidence of what she alleged, and believe the chaos that ensued that day — coupled with her grieving — prompted the accusations. Rather we found more than one person who said lifeguards did enter the water, but locating the distressed swimmer was difficult because of the murkiness of the water, and the distance between him and help when he went under.

When he was pulled from the lake, personnel from Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services tried for as many as 15 minutes to revive him without luck, and he was eventually pronounced dead at Southeastern Regional Medical Center.

We hope that the Lumberton Recreation Department takes a good look at what happened that day so that if mistakes were made, they can be corrected going forward. There does appear to have been a delay in calling 911, but it’s a jump to say that a quicker call would have changed the outcome.

It is interesting to note that there were about as many lifeguards working that day as people swimming in the lake, so the issue wasn’t one of too few eyes keeping an eye on the swimmers. The victim had swam past the area designated for swimming, where the water was deeper and the help farther away.

It was the third drowning death at the lake at Luther Britt Park since it opened 30 years ago, in 1986. One drowning death a decade is not acceptable, but it certainly doesn’t point to a fundamental flaw in how the park is operated.

Drownings spike in the summertime when the coolness of a dip in a lake, river, ocean or pool can become irresistible in the near triple-digit heat and the oppressive humidity that Southeastern North Carolina is famous for.

So now is a good time for safety tips when swimming that are offered by the American Red Cross.

— Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.

— Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a beach with lifeguards, use the buddy system.

— Ensure that everyone in the family learns to swim well. Enroll in age-appropriate water orientation and swimming courses.

— Never leave a young child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child; teach children to always ask permission to go near water.

— Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.

— Establish rules for your family and enforce them without fail. Set limits based on each person’s ability, do not let anyone play around drains and suction fittings, and do not allow swimmers to hyperventilate before swimming under water or have breath-holding contests.

— Even if you do not plan on swimming, be cautious around natural bodies of water, including ocean shoreline, rivers and lakes. Cold temperatures, currents and underwater hazards can make a fall into these bodies of water dangerous.

— If you go boating, wear a life jacket. Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.

— Avoid alcohol use. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance and coordination; affects swimming and diving skills; and reduces the body’s ability to stay warm.

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