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Dramatic rescue underscores dangers of bridge swimming

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Troy Shantz

Another near drowning in the St. Clair River has again drawn attention to the importance of water safety, especially around the popular float-down zone at the Blue Water Bridge.

A 16-year-old girl was swimming near the bridge recently when she got pulled out into the river. She struggled against the strong current and couldn’t make it back to shore.

“She was a good 20 feet out from the wall when I saw her. I asked her if she was OK and she didn’t really answer,” said Austin Wright, 20, who was also swimming there that day.

“She looked like she was struggling at first, but then I thought she was OK because she didn’t say anything.”

At that point one of the girl’s friends ran up shouting for someone to get a rope. Without hesitating Wright dove in.

“As I was swimming to her I saw a freighter coming. That would’ve been bad if the freighter got to her before I did. It would’ve sucked her under,” he said.

Austin was able to reach the girl and swim with her back to shore.

“She told me that if she didn’t see me jump in she was just going to give up,” he said.

The girl, a student at Northern Collegiate, declined to be interviewed. But her mother told The Journal she was shaken by the incident and very grateful for Wright’s intervention.

“He saved her from drowning,” she said.

Entering the river upstream and drifting down under the bridge has been a local practice for generations.

But the Aug. 28 near-tragedy is an all-too-common occurrence in that stretch of water, officials say.

“There are several incidents each year where people get into trouble out there. It’s definitely an ongoing problem,” said Jim Burns, CAO of the Village of Point Edward.

“We tell people that it’s a very dangerous place to be in the water. It’s fast-moving, cold water,” he said, adding common sense is the best way to avoid trouble.

“We certainly don’t encourage the practice.”

Wright agreed it’s a risky place to swim but he’s been going there since he was young and is hesitant to condemn it outright.

He said the undertow gets very strong not far from shore, and things become even more unpredictable when ships are navigating through the area.

“Some people come down here drunk and they think they can swim with the current, but they can’t,” he said.

This area has numerous beaches that are much better for swimming than beneath the Blue Water Bridge, he added.

“It’s a beautiful place to go and sit and watch the ships go by, but I think it’s probably a place that’s best used from land or boat.

“It’s really not a safe place to be in the water.”


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