The B.C. and Yukon branch of Lifesaving Society executive director Dale Miller said fatal drownings across the province are down compared to 2018, with just 18 compared to 47 this time last year. But back-to-back incidents on the Okanagan Lake last weekend may serve as a safety reminder while enjoying the waters this summer.
“I know people think ‘oh, it’s never going to happen to me’ but when it does it helps if you’ve taken a few moments just to think ahead,” he said.
A 15-year-old drowned in the Gellatly Bay area in West Kelowna last Saturday and a Kelowna man remains in hospital in serious condition after nearly drowning in City Park on Sunday.
The body of 41-year-old kayaker Colin Palmer was found in Penticton on July 20 after being reported missing for three days. On Aug. 10, the body of 71-year-old Kelowna man Zygmunt Janiewicz was found about 170-feet below the water near Gyro Beach about two months after he was reported missing.
A fatal boat accident claimed the lives of a 35-year-old Kamloops man and a 36-year-old Maple Ridge man on June 9 on Osoyoos Lake.
Miller’s best advice: “know the water” you’ll be swimming in.
The BC Coroners Service’s 2016 data shows a steady decline with a total of 47 drowning deaths—in comparison to 91 in 2008. Twenty-four drowning deaths occurred on the Okanagan Lake in the eight-year span.
Between 2008-16, 10 drowned in the Kalamalka Lake near Vernon, five in Wood Lake near Lake Country and 12 in the Shuswap Lake.
The BC Coroner Service said fatal drownings are most common in the summer months and these statistics portrayed an average of 13.6 deaths per year in August.
Nineteen to 29 year olds accounted for the largest proportion of deaths at 23.7 per cent between 2008-16, followed by 50-59 year olds with 17 per cent. Alcohol and drug consumption contributed to 40.1 per cent of drowning deaths between 2008-15.
The BC Coroner Service said boating (21.8 per cent), swimming (16.8 per cent) and falls into the water (16.5 percent) were the three activities in which accidental drowning are most likely to occur.
If you see someone in distress in the water, Miller says it’s best to toss a line or a life ring and if you do have to get into the water, Miller recommends taking some sort of flotation aid—even a pool noodle—to help stay afloat.
“Just something that victim can hang onto as you’re towing them in… making sure there’s not two victims,” he said.
Miller also warns of the false sense of security that pool toys may give beachgoers.
“There are many situations where people fall off the inflatable and get separated from it,” Miller said. “Then, being a non-swimmer or maybe panicking in the water is how they get in trouble.”
— with files from Katya Slepian