Official: Swimmers misjudge distance, abilities

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:03 PM

Loretta Park

HUNTSVILLE — Tommy Laliemthavixay drowned while swimming at Pineview Reservoir on Sunday.

If past statistics hold true, the 26-year-old Kearns man will be the only swimmer to drown at the reservoir this year, but it is still one too many drownings, officials said.

Since 2004, there have been seven swimmers who have drowned at the reservoir, including Laliemthavixay. During that same time period, two swimmers have lost their lives at Causey Reservoir, said Weber County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brandon Toll.

At state owned parks, there were eight drownings in 2012 and eight drownings in 2011, said Hollie Brown, the spokeswoman for Utah State Parks Division.

Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Lowther said most swimmers who get into trouble do so because they misjudge how far the distance is and their own swimming abilities.

“Distance can be deceptive with water,” Lowther said. “Most people can walk a mile, but swimming a mile can be pretty exhausting.”

The water temperature can also play havoc on a person’s body. They don’t realize how cold it is until it’s too late, when the cool temperatures are decreasing the body temperature.

Toll said waves caused by winds or boats can also make a swimmer work harder to go the distance they want to go, and they become exhausted more quickly.

Toll heads up the county’s search and rescue team. He has 100 volunteers with 15 divers on the team.

To recover a body from a reservoir or lake is not easy.

There are always at least two divers on a recovery, he said. And besides divers, there are personnel who monitor the divers, help with the gear, fill up the air tanks and keep the divers on course.

Search and rescue team members also bring their boats, or the sheriff’s office recruits boats on the water, to cordon off the area that needs to be searched.

“We have to divert the other water craft from the area, so we can do our search,” Toll said.

Visibility in most of Northern Utah’s water ways is poor, forcing divers to search by “feel,” Toll said.

They hold onto each other’s shoulder and search with their free hand, he said.

The divers can stay down no longer than 15 minutes, because the search wears them out. They then come back up for 10 to 15 minutes to recuperate before going in the water to search again.

Toll said most drownings can be prevented if swimmers first do not overestimate their ability or how far they think they’re going to swim.

Wearing a life preserver or using a flotation device is also a good idea.

Swim in designated areas, but if a swimmer chooses to swim in areas where watercraft are allowed, be aware that wakes can make it more hazardous.

And if a swimmer is struggling, Toll said, the swimmer should not panic, but roll on their back and breath normally.

“The air in your chest will hold you up,” Toll said. “If you struggle and panic, that’s when you’ll get into trouble.”

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