Drunken swim­mers “a bloody tragedy”

The Free Press (Corowa) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JARRYD BARCA

Even if the Mur­ray River looks calm on top, don’t blend al­co­hol and swim­ming – it doesn’t mix.

That’s the key mes­sage from Corowa Search and Res­cue Pres­i­dent Peter Wright when he learnt of re­search un­der­taken by the Royal Life Sav­ing So­ci­ety.

Two univer­si­ties sur­veyed a to­tal of 684 peo­ple from dif­fer­ent creeks and rivers across the border to find out whether peo­ple, or how many, have con­sumed al­co­hol be­fore en­ter­ing the wa­ters.

278 of the 684 peo­ple sur­veyed were in re­gards to the Mur­ray River and a breathal­yser was used to gauge if peo­ple were swim­ming un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol.

The re­sults were alarm­ing, with as many as one in six peo­ple un­der the in­flu­ence while swim­ming and half of those above the le­gal limit to drive.

The study re­vealed that seven per cent of river users are legally drunk. That doesn’t seem like a ma­jor num­ber, but out of 684 res­i­dents it is a pos­si­ble 48 deaths caused by less re­ac­tion time and a de­crease in swim­ming skills if caught in a rough cur­rent.

Of those peo­ple used in the study that were drink­ing, the av­er­age BAC level was 0.07, with one swim­mer record­ing a BAC of 0.334 (six and a half times the le­gal limit for driv­ing a mo­tor ve­hi­cle).

“I’ve been div­ing vol­un­tar­ily for the VRA (Vol­un­teer Res­cue As­so­ci­a­tion) for the last 38 years and un­for­tu­nately my log­book is filled with tragic drown­ings

in the river that have been caused by peo­ple ei­ther un­der the in­flu­ence or not hav­ing enough re­spect for the river,” Mr Wright told The Free Press.

Mr Wright said that de­spite try­ing to ed­u­cate peo­ple from lo­cal schools about re­spect­ing the river, it’s of­ten the visi­tors that aren’t from the area that aren’t aware of the dan­gers.

“It looks quite calm on the top but they ei­ther get into trou­ble be­cause they’re not strong swim­mers or they’re un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol and that’s a deadly com­bi­na­tion,” he said.

“We haven’t had a bad run over the last 12 months but it’s not a mat­ter of if, it’s just when’s the next per­son go­ing to drown in the river, and it’s just bloody tragic.

“I’ve been do­ing this for 38 years and 95 per cent of (the deaths) are avoid­able.”

While rec­om­mend­ing peo­ple are aware of CPR and us­ing other first aid pro­ce­dures, Mr Wright sug­gested that be­ing aware of the risks and not tak­ing the chance is the best safety mea­sure.

“It’s al­most too late with drown­ing be­cause there’s no first aid that can save you. Once you drown you’re dead,” he said.

“I rec­om­mend peo­ple to have the knowl­edge of first aid but, when it comes to the river, it’s very much about be­ing aware prior to en­ter­ing the wa­ter – that’s a more rel­e­vant mes­sage than first aid.

“If peo­ple are aware of the risks – strong cur­rents and their own abil­ity to swim – and they get into trou­ble, they need to not panic.

“I stress this when I talk to the kids at school, if you get into trou­ble in the river, whether you’re al­co­hol af­fected or not, if you panic, it’s quite of­ten that the panic kills you.

“You go to swim against the cur­rent, you can’t do it, become ex­hausted and you drown. Over that 38 years we’ve had peo­ple drown in wa­ter that’s only just deeper than what they can stand in be­cause they’ve ex­hausted them­selves.

“If you get in trou­ble in the river just focus on keep­ing your head above wa­ter and go with the cur­rent be­cause even­tu­ally you’ll come to the snag or a bank and be able to hang on.

“But in the heat of the mo­ment and the panic that sets in in the river, it just cre­ates a ma­jor prob­lem for peo­ple.

“And peo­ple think it’s sea­sonal, well it’s not. All year long you have to be care­ful and we’ve even no­ticed fa­tal ac­ci­dents be­cause drunken blokes are go­ing out driv­ing boats in the dark while un­der the in­flu­ence.”

The Mur­ray River was listed as the worst river for drown­ings in Royal Life Sav­ing Aus­tralia’s most re­cent 10-year re­view. It is the na­tion’s lead­ing river drown­ing blackspot, with 72 drown­ing deaths in the Mur­ray River over the last 15 years.

On Tues­day, March 7, a man was saved by two teenage life guards at Lake Mul­wala.

The 19-year-old tourist from Queens­land did not pay the ul­ti­mate price for be­ing in­tox­i­cated while swim­ming in the wa­ter, how­ever ram­i­fi­ca­tions could have been se­verely worse had it not been for the brav­ery of the 15 and 17-year-old life guards. “It’s bloody sad,” Mr Wright said.

Royal Life Sav­ing run CPR and first aid cour­ses through­out the re­gion. If peo­ple are in­ter­ested in learning these life­sav­ing skills, please call the Royal Life Sav­ing Rive­rina of­fice on (02) 6921 7422.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Re­spect the River pro­gram please visit www.roy­al­life­sav­ing.com.au/re­spect­theriver.

Sta­tis­tics col­lected for the Mur­ray River re­gion.

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