Officials: Use caution when swimming

With two drowning deaths in Monroe County in less than one month, authorities urge summer swimmers to use caution when swimming in area rivers.

“Regardless of how good a swimmer someone may be or think they are, they should always use caution when swimming in rivers such as the Tombigbee and Buttahatchie,” Danny Graham of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said. “We recommend if you are going to swim in a river or somewhere where a current is moving, the swimming should be done with a life jacket or preserver. If you have a life jacket or preserver, it will give you something to hold on to if the current picks up. Another way to be safe is to never swim against the current — you should always swim with the current.”

Monroe County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) Chief Deputy Brent Swan said river swimming is a popular summertime activity in Monroe County. Although the recent drowning deaths were tragic, Swan hopes a lesson will be learned through the loss.

“Swimming in the river, what we call local swimming holes,” is a very popular activity — it always has been,” he said. “I remember when I was a child, my parents would tell us horror stories about people drowning in gravel pits. It’s the same thing today with swimming in the rivers — they change from day to day. A heavy rain can make a river quite brutal — the wind and breeze can also affect the river’s conditions — what you see today may not be the same tomorrow.”

According to Swan, the MCSD also encourages swimmers to use caution and supervision when swimming in local rivers and creeks.

“We recommend that if you are going to swim in the river, you should be a good, confident swimmer and you should make sure you have good supervision,” Swan said. “Even if you are a good swimmer, we still recommend wearing a flotation device.”

Swan said swimmers should also make certain they have the right to access where they are swimming.

“For instance, the property used to access the river under the Highway 6 Bridge was private property,” he said. “The property owner has given the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries authority to prosecute trespassers on his property. You can be charged with trespassing under the Highway 6 Bridge if you are on private property. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being in the river.”

Dave Eldridge of MedStat EMS said one drowning in Monroe County is one too many and that staying calm is one way to avoid another death by drowning.

“The first thing that happens in a drowning is that the person usually panics,” Eldridge said. “If the person would just stay calm, there is a good chance they can make it through this. But once someone panics, it is usually over with. After a person panics, they go under the water and they suffocate — they can’t breathe anything in. There is a huge misconception that the lungs immediately fill with water and that’s how someone dies from drowning. But it’s not true.”

Eldridge also said river swimmers and those supervising the swimmers should use extreme precautions.

“If someone starts to panic, the best thing someone can do is call 911,” he said. “Because if you go after them and they are panicking, they are going to take you down with them. Do not attempt to rescue someone from drowning in a river unless you are an expert swimmer or have been trained in water rescues. Also, if you are going to swim in the river, please use a life jacket or flotation device — this could be the key to having a fun day as opposed to a day of tragedy.”

Jeff Clark/Monroe Journal