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Rescue diver's open water swimming warning

A specialist rescue diver has warned people against swimming in open water by sharing the harrowing details involved in rescuing those who have drowned.

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 now sharing how his team work when someone drowns in a bid to prevent adults and teenagers from going into open water.

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.”

If rescue divers do not have a final sighting, they can use high frequency side scan sonar to search large areas to pick up the outline of a body.

Mr Faulding added: “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.”

Divers then have to swim with the drowned person back to the water’s edge where they are placed in a body bag in the water before being laid in a forensic tent.

“There is no dignity in drowning,” Mr Faulding added.

He warned that people feel they are able to swim in open water but the cold temperatures can zap their energy and cause cold water shock.

By the time swimmers reach the middle of anexpanse of water they can be exhausted and gasping for breath, which leads to water being swallowed and the body sinking below the surface.

A poster by the Safer Slough Partnership warning of the dangers of open water swimming

Mark Scaife, whose son Michael died in the Jubilee River while trying to save a friend in August 2015, said it felt like ‘banging your head against the wall’ trying to warn people about the dangers of open water swimming.

He said: “The families suffer first but people don’t think about the divers who have to go and recover the body and I can’t imagine what that must be like.

“If the story from these divers gets out there about how bad it is then maybe that will make people think twice.”

He added: “It’s like banging your head against the wall sometimes over the summer.

“We put the safety messages out there and people think they’re indestructible but they’re not.”

The Safer Slough Partnership has released posters warning residents about the dangers posed by open water swimming in areas such as the Jubilee River.

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