Scottish park authority to reflect on one of 'worst weekends' in history as safety bodies highlight reasons for drownings
The head of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority (LLTNPA) has said the organisation will reflect on “what more can be done” to prevent further tragedies after what he described as “one of the worst weekends” in the national park’s history.
Four people, including two children, died on Loch Lomond in the space of two days. They were among six fatalities on Scottish waters during the weekend.
Gordon Watson, chief executive of the LLTNPA, said that following the tragic deaths, the authority would be reflecting along with its partners and discussing “what more can be done by us all to prevent further tragedies in our lochs”.
On Saturday, nine-year-old Ranas Haris Ali, his mother Edina Olahova, 29, and 41-year-old Muhammad Asim Riaz died in Loch Lomond near Pulpit Rock by Ardlui.
The day before, Connor Markward, 16, died after getting into difficulty in the loch near the pier at Balloch Country Park.
Elsewhere, the body of Dean Irvine, 11, was pulled from the water at Alexander Hamilton Memorial Park near Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire, on Saturday afternoon.
A 13-year-old boy got into difficulty in the River Clyde at Hazelbank near Lanark later that evening. His body was recovered the following morning.
Mr Watson said the LLTNPA had recently introduced new safety equipment on its sites, along with clear signage and summer safety campaigns.
The authority, which has safety advice on open water swimming on its website, warned the water depth in its lochs can change “suddenly and unexpectedly,” even close to shore.
It said that its rangers, who patrol the lochside, would be happy to answer any questions people may have about swimming on Loch Lomond.
While there has been a longer term reduction in the number of accidental drownings in Scotland, it remains one of the leading causes of accidental deaths.
According to the National Water Safety Forum’s (NWSF) water incident database, there were 39 such fatalities in Scotland last year, with 12 of those fatality reports noting the presence of drugs or alcohol.
There was an average of 43 deaths a year between 2018 and 2020. That three-year average is the highest of any nation or region throughout the UK.
The local authority area with the highest number of deaths over the three-year period was Highland Council, where an average of seven people died each year. Argyll and Bute saw an average of five deaths, followed by Fife with four.
The data compiled by the NWSF also shows the majority of deaths over that period – an annual average of 18 – occurred in coastal waters or rivers. An average of five people died at sea, with two dying while swimming in lochs or lakes.
The latest deaths come after swimming pools were closed for several months due to Covid-19, meaning that children and adults have been unable to take lessons.
The Royal Life Saving Society charity has said people’s lack of potential interaction with the water, coupled with an inequality in access to swimming and water safety education, was a “big concern” this summer. It is encouraging parents to teach their children how to enjoy water safely.
David Walker, head of leisure at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, warned that cold water shock, which causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, leading to a spike in blood pressure, was a major risk factor facing those swimming in open waters.
He said: “Since the beginning of this month’s heat wave, we have seen an alarming number of accidental drowning incidents – almost double the daily average we would expect to see in a normal year.
“We know that on a hot day, it can be tempting to cool off by going for a swim at inland water sites like reservoirs, lakes and quarries.
“However, the water can be a lot colder than you were expecting and lead to cold water shock, which is when sudden immersion makes you gasp and lose control of your breathing and can lead to drowning."
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) warned of the “extreme” dangers of swimming in unsupervised open waters, which can become very cold just a few feet under the surface, leading to cramps and quickly sapping stamina.
It also highlighted the unseen risks in open waters which look calm on the surface, but have strong undercurrents or unseen objects underneath.
Martin Blunden, chief officer of the SFRS, stressed that water can kill and urged daytrippers to ensure that adults and children “know how to behave around inland water” following the “tragic” events at the weekend.
The Outdoor Swimming Society, which has produced a series of safety tips on its website, said paddling areas could shelve steeply, leading children and non-swimmers to fall into deep-water.
It also urged parents to be wary of allowing their children to use inflatables, given that wind and waves can turn them over, leaving youngsters in deep water without lifejackets or buoyancy aids.
Water Safety Scotland, a voluntary association that is aiming to reduce accidental drowning deaths in Scotland by 50 per cent by 2026, said the 2020 data showed 79 per cent of accidental drownings occurred in inland waters. It described this as a “significant change” on previous years, when most accidental fatalities occurred off coastlines.
Michael Avril, chair of the association, said: “Scotland carries a disproportionate burden – the accidental drowning rate is almost double the UK’s average when the relative population is taken into account.
“We want people to enjoy Scotland’s waterways in as safe a way as possible and recommend that people follow Scotland’s water safety code in order to help themselves and others stay safe around water.”
The spate of deaths comes in spite of several campaigns flagging the dangers of swimming in inland open waters. The inaugural World Drowning Prevention Day took place on Sunday.
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