Body pulled from river pushes total possible drownings in Alberta this summer to at least 12

Police have found the body of a Calgary man who went missing after swimming in the Bow River near Carseland Sunday night — the latest casualty in an uptick in drownings in Alberta that may be in part tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic might be behind uptick, expert says

RCMP are sharing water safety tips after a string of drownings in Alberta lakes and rivers this summer. (Google Images)

Police have found the body of a Calgary man who went missing after swimming in the Bow River near Carseland Sunday night — the latest casualty in an uptick in drownings in Alberta this summer that may be in part tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have been at least 12 possible and confirmed drownings in Alberta since June.

Kelly Carter, chief executive officer of the Lifesaving Society's Alberta and Northwest Territories chapter, said the increase is likely due to changes in behaviour triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

"Supervised centres are the safest places for people to swim  and, with the closure, more people are trying to get outside," Carter said. 

"As a result, we're seeing more packed, busy beaches, and more people with exposure to the water."

Carter said outdoor bodies of water carry unknown dangers, like currents, and are exposed to unpredictable changes in weather. 

Drownings range from teens canoeing to adults boating and swimming

The RCMP's official count is five confirmed drowning deaths in Alberta from January 2020 to Aug. 7, but more are presumed.

"They've been really unfortunate and tragic circumstances," Carter said. 

Possible, presumed and confirmed drownings in Alberta this summer include:

Gagandeep Singh Khalsa, in his early 20s, is one of a number of casualties lost to presumed and confirmed drownings in Alberta's lakes and rivers this summer. (Facebook)
  • July 25: A Calgary man, Gagandeep Singh Khalsa, climbed down onto some rocks so his friends could snap a photo beside the frigid North Saskatchewan River near Glacier Lake in Banff National Park and is believed to have been swept away after falling into the fast-moving waters.
  • July 27: The body of a 20-year-old man who drowned in Stafford Lake — just east of Coaldale, Alta. — was recovered after rescuers spent hours looking for the victim.
  • Aug. 2: A 53-year-old man was found floating in the North Saskatchewan River near Cottontail Corner  in Parkland County. He was declared dead at a hospital in Leduc.
  • Aug. 3:  A 39-year-old man drowned at Lake Annette — a popular lake in Jasper National Park.
  • Aug. 8: Police said they were searching for a youth who may have drowned near Seebe Dam in southern Alberta. He had been swimming with friends and attempting to swim across the river when he was swept under the water, RCMP said in an emailed release.
  • Aug. 8: RCMP said they were also investigating two other possible drownings after bodies were found along the shoreline of a popular lake near Edmonton. The body of a woman was found on Silver Beach near Mulhurst Bay, and during a search of the same shoreline, police found the body of a man. 
  • Aug. 9: A Calgary man went missing in the water while swimming in the Bow River near Highway 24 and Wydham Park in Carseland. His body was recovered on Aug. 10.

Between January 2016 and July 2020, there were 67 drowning deaths in Alberta, according to the RCMP.

Seventy-five percent of the individuals who drowned were over the age of 21, and 70 per cent of the incidents occurred on a lake or river.

How to reduce the risk

Carter said it's important to realize that drowning does not discriminate. It can happen in seconds, in just a few inches of water. 

"It can happen to anyone, of any age, at any time," he said.

"I think the big takeaway here for everyone is water can be extremely dangerous and it's important to keep some safety tips in mind."

To reduce the risks of drowning and promote water-safety, the RCMP asks Albertans to remember the following:

  • Children must be supervised by an adult while swimming.
  • Children and inexperienced swimmers should always wear a life-jacket when in the water.
  • Check both water and weather conditions before heading out on a lake or river. Weather can change and quickly become dangerous.
  • Ensure there are enough life-jackets or personal floatation devices for every person on a watercraft.
  • Ensure boats have a safety kit and cellphone on board in case of emergencies.
  • Never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Avoid climbing rocks or cliffs near water for photo-op purposes. A selfie should never compromise your safety.

With files from Helen Pike, David Bell and CBC Edmonton


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