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August 24, 2012

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Death sheds light on pools' safety

THE death of a six-year-old local boy who drowned during a swimming class on Tuesday evening has left his parents in shock while raising questions about the pool management at the natatorium.

The 1.28-meter-tall boy was found dead in a 0.8-meter-deep swimming pool at Shanghai Swimming Club "without any signs of struggle", according to the pool managers.

With the parents questioning the swimming coach's credentials and accountability during a negotiation session at the club yesterday, a Shanghai Daily investigation found that many summer swimming courses share the same problem - lax supervision, inadequate protective measures and poor management.

The boy apparently choked on food while he was under the water, according to the Shanghai Swimming Rescue Association. The water pressure pushed food from his stomach into his mouth and blocked his trachea, which suffocated him. In such cases, people die quickly if they are not rescued in time, it added.

"There's no hope for survival if the child's wind pipe is not opened immediately - within one or two minutes," said Ji Hong, deputy director of the association.

The club said the coach had asked children to practice holding their breath in the water and ordered them to raise themselves from the water at 7:13pm when he found the boy drowned, according to the club.

There were 10 children in the boy's batch, with just one coach to guide them. Seven of the kids attended the 6:15pm-to-7:15pm swimming class that evening.

Parents are forbidden from entering the club unless they pay for the swimming tickets. The boy's mother and grandfather were waiting for him outside as usual that evening when the accident happened.

The parents have cast doubts on whether the coach and lifeguard performed their duty properly or carried out a timely rescue.

They demanded to see surveillance camera footage and wanted to talk to the coach to learn about what happened before 7:13pm.

But they were disappointed on both counts because the swimming pool, one of Shanghai's best, was not equipped with surveillance cameras.

Moreover, the parents were unable to talk to the coach, the first eyewitness, because the pool immediately dismissed him following the accident.

"The club said they were also confused about what happened before 7:13pm," said the boy's father surnamed Lu.

Though the mystery of the boy's death has not been solved, training classes continue and the club is running as usual.

Swimming classes for children are popular in the city every summer and a Shanghai Daily investigation found potential hazards in such courses.

All pools claim they hire experienced and qualified swimmers or retired athletes as coaches but most of them failed to provide detailed teaching qualifications of their coaches.

Many pools don't conduct physical tests on swimmers while parents doubt a coach's ability to keep a watch on dozens of children at the same time.

Considering most swimming pools are not willing to hire more staff to reduce cost, some parents even suggested that the pool invite parents to lend a helping hand.

Liu Chunquan, a lawyer, advised the government to set up volunteer teams or allow parents to supervise the training process.


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