Murrumbidgee River drowning one of almost 300 nationwide in past year

WATER TRAINING: Paramedics Eamonn Purcell and Luke Sturt take part in a NSW Ambulance Rescue exercise at Wagga Beach.
WATER TRAINING: Paramedics Eamonn Purcell and Luke Sturt take part in a NSW Ambulance Rescue exercise at Wagga Beach.

Wagga swimmers are being urged to stick to the rules and avoid risky behaviour as new national figures show almost 300 Australians drowned in the past year.

The plea comes as Royal Life Saving (RLS) on Tuesday released its annual figures for 2016-17, which showed 291 people drowned in Australian waterways, an increase of 3 per cent on the previous year.

In NSW, there were 93 deaths, and one of those was in the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga.

Overall, about one third of the NSW drowning deaths occurred in rivers, creeks and streams.

Victorian man Peter Abd-El-Kaddous, 42, drowned in the river not far from Wagga Beach in December 2016. Police said he had been swept away by a powerful current.

Captain of the Wagga Volunteer Rescue Squad Tim Lidden  is urging people to take care and reduce their risk of drowning this summer.

“I’ve been involved in a few searches, and I don’t want to have to do another one,” he said.

Mr Lidden warned would-be swimmers to remember that the Murrumbidgee River was constantly changing.

“It changes all the time. Some years it’s deep, some years shallow and there’s submerged logs and rocks,” he said.

“If people are going to be swimming they need to take care. Don’t swim alone, make sure children are supervised and don’t mix alcohol and water.”

Two years ago, RLS produced a report that labelled the Murrumbidgee River as Australia’s sixth most dangerous river.

The group said more than a dozen people had drowned in the river since 2002.

This latest RLS report is the first to examine the impact of both fatal and non-fatal drowning.

RLS estimates that there were an additional 685 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation in 2016-17 and many of the people involved in these incidents will require long-term medical assistance.

NSW chief operating officer for RLS  Michael Ilinsky acknowledged that Australians love the water.

“It’s an important part of our culture. The sad fact that 291 people drowned last year is a sobering reminder to always actively supervise children around water, for people young and old to learn to swim and survive, to increase life jacket use, reduce alcohol consumption around water and to always Respect the River,” he said.