The father of a teenager who drowned in South Yorkshire says more people could die if there isn’t enough rescue equipment near open water.
Sam Haycock was saving up to buy a moped, and the 16-year-old wanted to be more independent when he started college. He was looking for a part-time job so he could earn some money.
“He was happy. He was going in the right direction,” says his dad Simon.
When his school broke up for May half-term, Sam went swimming with friends at a local reservoir in Rotherham.
“He had no fear. He didn’t see the danger of jumping in, despite not being able to swim,” Simon adds.
It was a hot day, but the water was cold. Sam went into shock and his friends lost him under the water.
“It was horrible waiting for news,” says Simon.
“I found it hard to believe when that news came through. I still do now.”
An underwater search team found Sam’s body later that day.
Simon is angry that his son couldn’t be saved. He says there was a flotation ring at the reservoir but it was hidden underneath overgrown trees, so Sam’s friends didn’t see it.
Simon is fundraising for more life-saving equipment to be available near open water: “I want to get this campaign up and going so that money is not an excuse for not having this equipment around the water.”
The availability of rings and throw lines, which can be used to pull a drowning person to safety, is not Simon’s only concern.
People vandalise and steal equipment that could be used to save lives. Simon believes that an alarm system could help to stop the equipment from being taken.
Damaged and missing safety gear is common, says Matt Gillar from the South Yorkshire and Fire Rescue Service. He and his colleagues have also faced hostility and even violence when they patrol near open water.
“I think stone-throwing has been the extreme of what we’ve faced over the last few weeks. Some people don’t want to listen or engage, and we are there purely to make them safe,” says Matt.
The recent heatwave caused a spike in drownings as people tried to cool off in reservoirs and other open water spots.
A mother and her nine-year-old son drowned, along with a family friend, in Scotland’s Loch Lomond on 24 July.
Matt says – if people see warnings about swimming – they must not get in the water.
“It looks so tranquil and peaceful from the side. Unfortunately, when you get into the water, there’s debris underneath that you can’t see,” he says.
“But the biggest problem is cold water shock. The body doesn’t adjust quickly enough, you start gasping and you could drown.”
Even strong swimmers can suffer from shock.
The pandemic put a stop to swimming lessons for many children. The Swimming Teachers’ Association says more than two million children could have missed out on lessons.
Sam’s family hope that people will learn from their son’s death. Simon wants children and teenagers to be educated about the dangers of open water swimming. He says if he can save just one life in Sam’s name, then he’ll keep on campaigning.