Incident in Bonn Why the riverbank of the Rhine is dangerous for small children
Bonn · A canoeist recounts a dramatic incident. The German water rescue association DLRG welcomes the directive from the city of Bonn to no longer let day care children play at the water line. Small children are at risk of drowning even in shallow waters.
The toddler is up to his knees in the water. The parents are sitting on the banks of the Rhine, engrossed in conversation. A barge passes by in the distance. The water recedes from the bank, the child is almost standing on dry land. The parents look over briefly, thinking their child is safe. They have no idea that the water is about to come back. A few seconds later, the child's head is under water.
This is what happened on the banks of the Rhine in Beuel, not far from the North Bridge. "The big wave created by the barge came like a tsunami for the child and knocked it over," says canoeist Dietmar K. from Endenich, who saw it happen. He briefly considered jumping into the water to save the child. But he was too far away. The 66-year-old shouted a warning to the parents, and the father quickly fetched his child from the now deeper water.
The canoeist, who lives in Endenich, is regularly out and about on the Rhine. "Always with a life jacket, and for good reason. I was shocked when the child was suddenly under water," he reports. He was all the more annoyed by a GA report from the previous week. Nursery school teachers had let toddlers up to their knees in the water on the banks of the Rhine. Markus Zimmermann, a lifeguard and everyday helper at this daycare center, pointed out the dangers of this to his co-workers - to no avail. He alerted the Youth Welfare Office, then the management of the daycare center ended its cooperation with him - but allegedly for other reasons. But the Youth Welfare Office said he was right. Shortly thereafter, the city of Bonn banned all municipal daycare centers from outings to the river's direct water line.
After his own experience, Dietmar K. is baffled by the educators' lack of caution. "Between the parents' brief glance and my shouting, there was a maximum of ten seconds," says the 66-year-old. "With 20 children and four employees of a day care, it can happen fast that they are overwhelmed and misjudging the situation." He thinks it's important to teach young children how to handle water. But this should happen in a protected environment. "So Markus Zimmermann reacted responsibly," says the canoeist. To then dismiss him, he says, deprives motivated people of the will to do a good job.
Water rescuers appalled by recklessness of the daycare workers
The German Lifesaving Society (DLRG) welcomes the city's directive. "I seriously ask myself who can be responsible for taking such a risk," criticizes Sebastian Görgen, spokesman for the DLRG. "After all, a child could slip on slippery stones and be carried away by the current." Especially at the current low water level, the distance between them and passing barges is quite small - and the suction effect all the greater.
The suction and wave impact of passing barges or vessels is often underestimated, according to Bonn police. "This can be so strong that even adult persons are sucked into the current," says police spokesman Simon Rott. The speed of the Rhine current varies from three to twelve kilometers per hour. Swimming accidents often occur where commercial vessels are underway. The danger is particularly great for small children.
Children drown even in shallow water
Children quickly lose their bearings under water and panic, warns the DLRG. This increases the risk of drowning. In a flyer for young parents, the association explains why children can die even in shallow water - for example, in backyard ponds. Children naturally have large heads and short arms and legs. If a child playing by the water tilts forward, his or her head dives right under, the brochure says. "The buoyancy of the water makes arms, legs and the body float. Even in shallow water! The big, heavy head is always at the bottom!" It is important that supervisors always keep an eye on the child, as he or she cannot estimate the depth of the water and just two minutes is enough to drown.
Drowning does not always mean that the child gets water in the lungs. "The children hold their breath, close their glottis and stop all movement," explains Professor Rainer Ganschow, director of general pediatrics at Bonn University Hospital. "The children eventually die from lack of oxygen, which irreversibly damages the brain." This can happen even in a backyard pond with a water height of 20 to 30 centimeters, he says.
He does not think the precautions taken in Germany's backyards are adequate. "In Australia, pools must always be secured with a glass surround. Doors to the pool are designed to be childproof. I would like to see this for German pools as well," he said. Besides securing pools and ponds, the Bonn Fire Department recommends teaching children to swim as early as possible. That way, they can stay afloat on their own.
(Orig. text: Lea Henneberg; Translation: ck)