LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Drowning and near drowning in rivers
Roger W. Byard
Accepted: 21 February 2017 /Published online: 9 March 2017
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
The motivation for writing the Commentary on drowning
deaths in rivers  came from two recent incidents that oc-
curred in the Murrumbidgee River in the small Australian
country town of Wagga Wagga.
The first occurred in late afternoon in summer when a
group of men decided to go for a swim after work. None of
the swimmers had consumed any alcohol. Although it was
hot, there had been recent rain and the river was quite swollen,
with a strong current and numerous eddies. During the swim
one of the group grew tired, and as he headed towards the
shore became caught in an eddy and started to submerge.
Fortunately he was dragged ashore by his friends who later
described him as feeling like a “dead weight”. The rescued
swimmer was most struck by a sudden feeling of loss of buoy-
ancy. Subsequently the role of significant but concealed river
eddies in producing these effects was appreciated. Six weeks
previously a 42-year-old man in the same stretch of river had
not been so fortunate when he was dragged underwater from
his wife’s arms and drowned .
These two cases draw attention to a situation that is often
underappreciated in river drownings and near-drownings,
even by professionals, where an apparently calm surface over-
lies quite strong currents and back eddies that can very quickly
overwhelm swimmers . The high rate of drowning in rivers
in Australia and other countries may in part be a result of this
lack of understanding. The reported cases also initiated an
analysis of specific issues that may arise in the medicolegal
assessment of river drownings .
Finally, I would like to very sincerely thank the three col-
leagues and good friends, Peter Coleman, Adam Ford and
Martin Keir, who managed to save me from a river drowning
in Wagga Wagga, Australia, on Tuesday 14th February 2017.
1. Byard RW. Drowning deaths in rivers. Forensic Sci Med Pathol.
2. Wagga Wagga missing man: wife ‘clung to man as he was swept
away by river’. The Daily Telegraph December 29 2016. http://www.
bfefe55560d89f665ef906a4c1. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
3. Peden AE, Queiroga AC. Drowning deaths in Australian rivers,
creeks and streams: a 10 year analysis. Royal Life Saving Society
– Sydney, Australia.
* Roger W. Byard
School of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, Frome Rd,
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Forensic Sci Med Pathol (2017) 13:396