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Monday, October 17, 2016, 00:26

Swimmer drowns during HK harbor race

By Shadow Li
Swimmer drowns during HK harbor race
Lifeguards pull the unconscious male swimmer from the water during Hong Kong’s annual cross-harbor swim on Sunday. The 46-year-old died after being taken to hospital. (Photo provided to C hina D aily)

A male swimmer drowned on Sunday while participating in Hong Kong’s annual cross-harbor swimming race, while a female swimmer is said to be in critical condition in a hospital’s intensive-care unit.

The man, surnamed Ho, was pulled unconscious from the water by a rescue boat 300 meters from the finish line at about 9:30 am.

The 46-year-old father of a 15-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son was described by his parents as a man who loved to swim. He had completed the cross-harbor swim every year since it was reinstated in 2011. Ho was also a regular marathon runner.

The tragedy was the first recorded death in the formal swimming race since it was resumed in 2011, having been suspended for decades owing to pollution in the harbor

Ho was taken to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan. A 60-year-old woman had been pulled from the water moments earlier.

According to Ho’s parents, he had been employed as a technician at the University of Hong Kong for more than 15 years and was given a long-term service award before leaving to take a post on the Chinese mainland. Ho returned to Hong Kong two months ago.

The tragedy was the first recorded death in the formal swimming race since it was resumed in 2011, having been suspended for decades owing to pollution in the harbor.

Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, president of event organizer the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, expressed sadness over the tragedy and offered his condolences to the deceased man’s family. Wong said the association will review the circumstances surrounding the man’s death to improve safety standards for swimmers.

According to Wong, participants were asked to finish a 1,500-meter swim within 45 minutes in order to qualify to participate in Sunday’s event, and several safety measures were established to lower safety risks for swimmers.

This year, more than 120 rescuers were deployed in the water, and a giant red balloon was set aloft at the finish line to guide participants. A rescue boat with life-saving equipment was positioned every 20 to 30 meters along the course.

Lobo Louie Hung-tak, associate professor of physical education at Hong Kong Baptist University, suggested that organizers tighten rules for qualification. Currently, participants are allowed to enter the race up to two years after passing pre-race qualification.

Louie also proposed a physical body check for applicants before they are cleared to participate.

Hong Kong Swimming Teachers’ Association chairman Yeung Che-to suggested that the pre-race qualifying events be hosted at beaches instead of swimming pools to better simulate the cross-harbor conditions, adding that strong currents recorded on Sunday morning would have affected the swimmers’ endurance.

Swimmers started in groups near the Lei Yue Mun fishing village in Kowloon at about 8:30 am and finished at Sai Wan Ho on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour.

Charles Peterson from the United States claimed the men’s title, crossing the finish line in 16 minutes, 44.3 seconds. The women’s winner was Rio Olympics 10 kilometer gold medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands, who finished in 16 minutes, 55.9 seconds.
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