One dead, one hospitalised after Hong Kong cross-harbour swim race

Deceased pulled unconscious from water and another swimmer in intensive care in hospital

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 10:40pm

At least one swimmer drowned and another was hospitalised in intensive care following the annual cross-harbour swim yesterday.

A 46-year-old man was pulled unconscious from the water near the finish line at Quarry Bay Park on eastern Hong Kong Island at about 9.30am. A woman, 59, was separately rescued by lifeguards 15 minutes earlier.

Both were sent to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital. The woman was admitted to the intensive care unit.

We are very saddened by the news, and will do whatever possible to help the family get through this difficult time
Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association

The death was the first casualty since the race resumed in 2011 after a three-decade hiatus due to concerns about water pollution.

Organiser Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association said there were sufficient lifeguards for the event, but added it would seek “room for improvement”.

“We are very saddened by the news, and will do whatever possible to help the family get through this difficult time,” president Ronnie Wong Man-chiu said.

He said lifeguard boats lined the race course at 30m intervals, each patrolling a section of the water to cover the entire route. Both the man and the woman took part in the race’s leisure category, which mandated the wearing of an orange tow float.

All participants had to enter a time trial in early September, and those failing to complete 1.5km within 45 minutes would be disqualified. However, those who participated in the past two years’ races and trials were exempted.

Zhang Diyong, former Hong Kong swimming team coach, said the responsibility was on swimmers. “Everyone should assess whether they were fit on the morning or the previous night of the race,” he said, adding it was not feasible for organisers to conduct health checks on entrants.

The mishaps came despite picture-perfect blue skies and a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. While some complained of strong currents, Wong said the conditions were the same as previous years’, and participants were not at risk.

Bigger, fairer and safer: annual cross-harbour swim race tries to avoid last year’s debacle

About 3,000 swimmers navigated 1.5km from Lei Yue Mun fishing village in Kowloon to Sai Wan Ho on the other side of Victoria Harbour.

The men’s champion, American Charles Peterson, crossed the finish line with a time of 16 minutes 44.3 seconds, while the women’s crown was claimed at 16 minutes 55.9 seconds by Dutch swimmer Sharon van Rouwendaal, also a 10km gold medallist at the Rio Olympics.

Competitors widely praised the improved course. This year’s route included an L-shaped dock to avoid congestion at the start, and a giant red balloon at the finish line to point swimmers in the right direction.