Drownings are up this year at Oklahoma lakes

Monday, July 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Too often, fun in the sun has turned tragic at Oklahoma's lakes this summer. Already there have been more drownings this year than last year and there's more than a month to go.

News on 6 reporter Steve Berg visited the site of the latest drowning, Washington Irving South Beach on Keystone Lake. It's a designated swimming area. But that didn't help the 24-year-old man who drowned here.

Officials don't know why there have been so many more drownings. 18 so far this year. Just 11 for all of 2002.

But Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Keith Kuhn says it may have something to do with, of all things, the economy. “They don't have the money to go on a vacation, so they're spending their time at the lake." Whatever the case, if people are spending more time at the lake, then it would be a good time to review safety tips.

Kuhn says far and away the biggest mistake that people make is swimming alone. And if they do have a friend, not knowing how well they can swim. Melissa Flanagan says one of her sister's friends drowned because there was no one to help. "He had another friend with him who didn't know how to swim so it's good to have someone who knows how to swim that could save you." The lake is obviously a lot different than a swimming pool.

There are generally no lifeguards. The water is murky so it's tough to find someone if they do go under. And the waves and currents and elements can make it harder to swim.

Relatives of a boy who drowned last week at Keystone were upset because nearby warning signs were damaged. Officials have since replaced the signs that warn about the dangerous areas for swimming, but as we learned this weekend, even a designated swimming area is no guarantee of safety. "You gotta know your limitations, if you go out and you get cramps, fatigue, if you want to swim a long distance don't see how far out you can swim, swim parallel to the shore. It's not a contest out here to see who can swim the furthest."

And troopers say alcohol and water is like "oil" and water, they don't mix. But they say use the buddy system and lifejackets. That's very important.