Cross-harbour race tragedy highlights the need for vigilance by participants and organisers alike

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 8:41pm

I refer to the tragedies that took place during the annual Hong Kong cross-harbour swim, held on October 16.

I was saddened to learn that two swimmers were pulled unconscious from the water within minutes of each other and admitted to hospital. While one of them, a 46-year-old man, died the same day, the other, a 59-year-old woman, remained in critical condition but lost her battle for life on Monday.

I do not agree with those who say that the tragedy was caused by improper arrangements by organisers.

Second swimmer dies after being pulled from water at Hong Kong cross-harbour race

Some have argued that had the lifeguards rescued the two swimmers earlier, they may have survived. I disagree. The Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association had warned swimmers of the risks involved in participating in the 1.5km cross-harbour race, from Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay Park.

It is also advised that swimmers assess whether they are in suitable condition to participate that morning, and to do enough warm-up exercises before the race. These are the swimmers’ responsibility. They should not put the blame on the association.

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Some even suggested placing canoes with lifeguards in the middle of the race course. But such an initiative is not feasible. Have they ever considered the swimmers’ action? They have to first put their heads down in the water, then come up to breathe. The swimmers cannot see anything above them while their heads are in the water. Given the waves, if a canoe unluckily floats above the head of a swimmer, they may not only be unable to come up for air, and accidents are more likely to occur.

But convenience to swimmers should be also taken into consideration. It has been suggested that the race course be divided in two, with some canoes separating them. That way, overcrowding can be avoided. Besides, with fewer swimmers in each half, lifeguards can more easily spot those in difficulty, and so avoid the kind of tragedy that struck this year. It is hoped the association will work to further ensure the safety of swimmers.

Lee Wing Ting, Lai Chi Kok