******WARNING: graphic content*******
Working in almost zero visibility the first a diver knows they have found a person missing presumed drowned after going swimming in open water, is placing a hand on their shoulder then seeing their staring eyes.
This is the harrowing task of divers called in to find people who have drowned in the country’s rivers, canals and lakes.
Peter Faulding is the chief executive officer of Specialist Group International, which is commissioned by all the police forces in the south east to find and recover people who have vanished under water.
He is sharing how his team work when someone drowns in a bid to prevent adults and teenagers going into open water. He also advocates parents and carers talking to young people about the dangers of open water as the weather improves and the school holidays begin.
In 2018 two young men died within weeks of each other in the fast flowing, deep and freezing water of the Jubilee River as temperatures soared. Three years before Langley’s Michael Scaife drowned in the same river but further up stream in Datchet.
Mr Faulding said: “By the time we are called by the police we have been brought in because they know the person in the water has died. When people see us it is usually really bad news.
“When we arrive we sometimes have to walk past a group of distraught friends, and sometimes family members, who were with the person when they vanished. They have to deal with a whole emergency services response of police, fire fighters and paramedics descending onto the river bank.
“We can use high frequency side scan sonar to search large areas if we don’t have a final sighting and can easily pick up the outline of a body.
“A diver then goes out on a safety line and is usually working in near zero visibility using their hands to feel their way around in the silt. The first we know when we find someone is placing a hand on their shoulder then you see their staring eyes.”
The divers have to then swim with the drowned person back to the water’s edge where they are placed in a body bag in the water before being placed on the bank.
Mr Faulding continued: “They are then laid in a forensic tent and we wait for the coroner to arrive.
“There is no dignity in drowning.”
He said people feel they are able to swim in open water but the cold temperatures can zap their energy and suffer cold water shock. By the time they have reached the middle of the expanse swimmers can be exhausted gasping for breath, swallowing water and their body is unable to react, leading to sinking below the surface.
Cllr Natasa Pantelic, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “There are also other dangers of the fast flowing water by weirs and bacteria in the water which an lead to illnesses
“However hot it gets please don’t go into any body of water as it can so easily lead to tragedy.”
More than 700 people drown every year in the UK and Ireland according to the Royal Life Saving Society UK which aims to reduce that number.
Of the deaths, 52 per cent of accidental drownings happen in open water with 80 per cent of those dying men. A third of deaths happen in the summer with the highest proportion of drownings occurring in people who are aged between 20 and 29 years old.
*The Scaife family have worked closely with Slough Borough Council and are aware of the content of this press release. They shared their story about the day their son died here https://www.slough.gov.uk/news/newsdetail.aspx?id=22372.