‘Warnings are there for a reason’ - Rescue workers urge people to stay safe around water

Scene of double drowning at St Andrew's Broad, Thorpe Marshes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Scene of double drowning at St Andrew's Broad, Thorpe Marshes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Life-saving rescue and 999 workers have urged people to be safe around the region's open water – and stressed that 'warnings are there for a reason'.

Bawsey Pits near King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Bawsey Pits near King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

On Tuesday, we launched our Summer of Swimming campaign, which aims to promote safe swimming and encourage families to teach more young people to be confident in the water.

Today, those who risk their own lives to save swimmers in trouble have pledged their support for the drive, joining Paralympic swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate, Norwich City Council, Riverside Leisure Centre and Active Norfolk.

In recent years there have been a spate of high-profile water deaths in the region, including that of Stella Kambi, 18, and her cousin Bonheur Musungay, 14, who died while swimming at Thorpe marshes in 2015.

Sixteen-year-old Umar Balogun also died while swimming in disused sand quarry Bawsey Pits in 2013 and Leszek Puchala, 52, drowned in a riptide off Sea Palling last year.

Already this year, three bodies have been found in rivers around Norfolk.

Stella Kambi and Bonheur Munsungay.

Stella Kambi and Bonheur Munsungay. - Credit: Archant

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Just days before strong swimmer Stella rushed into the water to save cousin Bonheur, who had got into trouble, signs advising people not to swim had been vandalised and removed, something Norfolk's senior coroner Jacqueline Lake described at the time as 'beyond belief'.

Paul Bassham, from Broads Beat, Norfolk police's Broads team, said warnings were in place for a reason, and added that emergency services were constantly trying to find new ways to raise awareness.

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'We live in a lovely area of outstanding beauty – the thought of cooling off and having a dip is inviting even when people know better, but it is the hidden dangers beneath that are so problematic,' he said.

'The water is clear in many places, but there's a lot where it's not, reeds and plants that can easily tangle around legs and the water is often cooler than it looks.'

Allen Frary. Picture: Ian Burt

Allen Frary. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

MORE: Launch of our campaign to equip youngsters with life-saving skillsHe said though signs in place, they were often ignored.

'Warnings are there for a reason – they can save lives. Much of our county is very rural, so if the worst happens and someone calls for help it can take a while for it to arrive,' he said.

'Going for a swim might look tempting – but the risk is not worth it.'

According to the Water Incident Database, put together by the National Water Safety Forum, there were 291 accidental drowning deaths around the UK in 2015, the latest figures available.

The RNLI's Respect the Water campaign aims to halve the number of coast drowning deaths by 2024. In 2015, there were 168 drownings around the UK coast - with adult men accounting for 84pc.

Cromer lifeboat operations manager Richard Leeds.
Photo: Nick Butcher

Cromer lifeboat operations manager Richard Leeds. Photo: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Richard Leeds, lifeboat operations manager at Cromer, said instilling the importance of water safety and strong swimming to children while they are young is 'very, very important'.

'If schools have the facilities for swimming, then those children obviously have an advantage,' he said. 'But many don't and unfortunately not all can.

'If at all possible, I would say to parents to take their children to the local baths and get them to a basic level. It is very important in a county like ours.'

Allen Frary, coxswain at Wells lifeboat, agreed, and added that even confident swimmers needed to be aware of the dangers of swimming in the sea.

'You can't compare swimming in the sea to a pool – it is very easy to get hit by a current, and the temperature is another important factor,' he said.

Broads Beat officer Paul Bassham. Photo: Steve Adams

Broads Beat officer Paul Bassham. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

'It takes people by surprise and is completely different to a heated pool. It might sound obvious – but people are taken aback.

'The RNLI works hard to raise awareness of the dangers in the water and it is important those messages are spread.'

Plenty of you got in touch after the launch of our campaign on Tuesday.

Swimming centres, clubs and instructors made contact to say they'd be happy to get involved – and we'll be offering more detail on how they have decided to help in these pages over the coming weeks.

Readers also shared their thoughts on Summer of Swimming – including one who said seeing a friend lose control while swimming in the sea inspired them to take lessons.

And we'd like to hear even more stories of yours.

How has learning to swim changed your life?

Is it something you wish you'd achieved, but always put off?

Perhaps we can help.

Whatever you can do to promote swimming as an activity or to highlight how to stay safe in the water, please do let us know.

• If you think you can help, please email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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