Why are so many young men drowning?

Memorials Families and friends remember the young men who drowned

To the sound of splashes and squeals of delight, a crowd of revellers sprints from the sunlight to cool off in a sparkling pond of deep, cool water.

From the scene

I attended a vigil at the quarry for Russell O'Neil. Hundreds of mourners came together to float candles on the water.

The most noticeable element of the vigil was the silence. There was a real feeling of disbelief.

Many of the people I spoke to noted how energetic Mr O'Neil was. People of all ages were affected by the events. Older people remembered the 'cheeky lad' who was a good friend to their son or daughter, young people remembered the 'best mate anyone could ask for'.

It was clear the waters at Gullet Quarry had claimed a very popular and special individual.

Many of the sunbathers have yet to notice the ranks of flowers, the handwritten cards, and the signed football shirts lining the edge of Gullet Quarry pond.

It is July 2013, and temperatures have climbed to 28C (82F).

Within the past week, in separate incidents, two young men, Russell O'Neil, 17, and Justas Jazenas, 22, have drowned in this idyllic spot on the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.

Swimming in the quarry has been illegal for years. Warning signs have been in place for years. Deaths have been happening for years.

Byelaws published by the Malvern Hills Conservators in 1999 included: "No person shall bathe in any pond, lake or stream on the Hills where bathing has been prohibited by notice conspicuously displayed."

Gullet Quarry Gullet Quarry, in Worcestershire, claimed the lives of two swimmers during July 2013

"How many more people need to die before someone takes notice of our warnings of the dangers of swimming in open waters?" John Woodhall, a water rescue specialist with West Midlands Ambulance Service, said at the time.

"After the first death I was back here at the quarry doing a TV news interview about it.

"The dead man's friends were laying flowers and, despite warning a man walking past me not to go into the water, he still did.

"He walked past the tributes on the way."

Clophill pits search The body of Conor McColl, 16, from Luton, was recovered from a former quarry in Clophill, Bedfordshire

Swimmers at the quarry certainly did not seem perturbed by the risks.

"I'm a strong swimmer," said 32-year-old Peter Marsh, from nearby Ledbury.

"And I know if I get into trouble, my mates are here to help. No, I'm not worried at all."

But, as Mr Woodhall pointed out, quarry swimming is not like splashing around in the local baths.

"The water is much colder," he said.

"You go from 28C (82F) outside to 10C (50F) in the water. You can get muscle cramps and stitches.

"The bottom is uneven, there are no depth markings. Even strong swimmers can slip underwater and you may not make it back up again."

Kyrece Marshall Kyrece Marshall, also known as Kyrece Francis, was swept into deep water in the Thames near Marlow

The number of people drowning in inland swimming accidents has risen.

RoSPA, a charity that advises on accident prevention, said 381 people drowned in accidents across the UK in 2013, an increase of 10 on the previous year.

It said 173 of these drownings took place in rivers, canals, lakes, quarries and reservoirs.

Start Quote

Cold water shock can be prevented by people getting in slowly and acclimatising themselves to the water”

End Quote David Walker RoSPA

In Cambridgeshire on Friday, the body of Rony John, 15, was recovered from the River Great Ouse, while in Clophill, Bedfordshire, the body of 16-year-old Conor McColl, from Luton, was found at a lake at a former quarry.

Two days earlier the body of missing student David Zikhali, 20, was found in the River Tees.

Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to 13-year-old Kyrece Marshall, also known as Kyrece Francis, who was swept into deep water in the Thames near Marlow, Buckinghamshire last Tuesday.

'Taking risks'

Lynne Roper, from the Outdoor Swimming Society, said telling people to stay away from outdoor water doesn't always work.

"You are always going to get teenagers, particularly teenage boys, taking risks," she said.

"The message we are trying to get across is to be sensible about the risks they are taking."

Campaigners say many teens are not aware of the dangers of cold water shock, a condition where the body starts to shut down because of sudden exposure to the cold.

RoSPA says this is a major cause of drownings.

David Cullen David Cullen, 16, from Leeds died in a park lake after trying to save the life of his friend

"Cold water shock can be prevented by people getting in slowly and acclimatising themselves to the water," said David Walker, from RoSPA.

"But many of these young men tend to jump in and swim out 50 metres (164ft). All of a sudden, cold water shock kicks in.

"It has nothing to do with how strong a swimmer you are - if you look at triathletes, they wear wetsuits to protect themselves against the shock of the water."

Summer 2013 drownings

Flowers left for a drowning victim

The death toll for inland swimmers over 10 days in July 2013:

6 July: Russell O'Neil drowned in Gullet Quarry

7th July: Matthew Joseph, 21, drowned in Coniston Water in the Lake District

12 July: Justas Juzenas drowned in Gullet Quarry

13 July: Damian Southall, 20, drowned in the River Severn in Shropshire

14th July: John Shailes, 27, drowned in the River Ray in Swindon

15th July: Nathan Lane, 28, drowned in the Thames at Gravesend

16 July: In separate incidents, Ryan Pettengell, 41, and Umar Balogun, 16, drowned in Bawsey Pits near Kings Lynn.

Source: RoSPA

David's Water Safety Awareness Campaign is an online group set up in memory of David Cullen, 16, who drowned in a lake in Roundhay Park, in Leeds, in 2005 while trying to rescue a friend.

"He was a strong person - very athletic and fit but his body shut down under the shock of the cold water," said his stepmother Amanda Ibbotson, who started the campaign.

"A lot of young people aren't aware of the dangers. They think they're immortal."

Ms Ibbotson is working with the Royal Lifesaving Society UK to get water safety taught as part of the national curriculum in schools.

"Since David's death, they have put up very clear signs and lifebuoys at Roundhay Park," she said. "But, of course, you don't get that kind of thing at rivers and quarries.

"I don't think anybody has been in the lake at Roundhay since David's death. But it shouldn't have to take something like that."

Mr Walker said: "By far and away the largest number of drownings is down to young men swimming in places where it is not permitted."

He said he wanted to see a greater choice of "safe" inland swimming locations available in the UK.

"There are very few at the moment, Cotswold Water Park is one of the few," he said.

"It's all very well putting up signs saying 'do not swim', but we also need to tell people where they can swim.

"We're not helping people enough to make informed choices. These young men just want to go and enjoy themselves.

"They are not doing anything wrong. They are just making a bad choice."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More England stories

RSS

Features

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.