VERNON - A number of water-related deaths in the Thompson-Okanagan over the past month have brought the topic to the forefront of many people’s minds, but the province’s Lifesaving Society says the number of drowning deaths is actually down considerably so far this year.
Just this past weekend, a 27-year-old man was critically injured while free diving in Okanagan Lake and later died in hospital.
On Aug. 9, the body of a 67-year-old man was found in Kalamalka Lake. The circumstances of his death remain under investigation by the RCMP and Coroners Service.
On Aug. 4, a 24-year-old Saskatchewan man jumped off a houseboat in Mara Lake and didn’t resurface. His death follows that of Alberta woman Andrea Jacura, who was killed when a houseboat backed over her on Shuswap Lake. The region has also seen the death of Lethbridge man Shane Letkeman, whose body was found in Kalamalka Lake June 28, and Michael Treseng, 56, who died after his boat capsized on Adams Lake. Another man, Curtis Wilson, has been missing since June 27 and is and presumed drowned in Kalamalka Lake.
Despite the list, Dale Miller, the executive director of the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon branch, says drownings are down province-wide. As of Aug. 10, there were 34 drownings to date, compared to 48 the same time last year. The number of water-related deaths in Okanagan lakes — which are somewhat notorious for accidents due to their popularity with swimmers and boaters — has remained about the same as last year, Miller says.
“Certainly we’ve had a rash of drownings lately, as often happens. It’s brought the topic to mind,” Miller says.
Since 2011, the average number of drownings by this time of year has been about 51, a number the province is presently well under, possibly due to the weather. With this year’s drought conditions, Miller believes decreased runoff and low water levels contributed to a reduction in the number of water-related deaths.
“Most years in the spring with runoff and higher, faster water, we do see a number of drownings,” Miller says. “We have not seen that this year.”
Miller is also optimistic that public education and water safety programs are having an impact on the reduction.
“We also hope people are just being smarter and that’s hopefully one of the reasons for the decrease,” Miller says.
He reminds people to come prepared for a day on the water with safety equipment like life-jackets, the importance of which we saw just last weekend in the Okanagan. Two young girls vacationing in Vernon got stranded for hours in Okanagan Lake after their inflatable kayak blew away. Fortunately, they were wearing lifejackets.
“Our water-wise boat safety team has been very active this year. What I told them after reading that story is retweet it — we couldn’t have said it better ourselves,” Miller says.
The society will be nominating Westside Road resident Wayne Carson, who rescued the girls, for a lifesaving award, Miller says.
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