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What Price A Child's Life?

Read real life case studies of children trapped in pools and spas - it can so easily be avoided

Pool and spa accidents happen to other people, right? To people who mess around in pools and do not follow safety rules?  Or to children whose parents are not vigilant in watching them in the pool or spa? Wrong! There is a far less well-known danger in pools and spas, namely the risk of entrapment by a single or damaged drain which produces a powerful suction and can trap bathers without any warning, causing devastating injuries and death.

MSI has been raising awareness of the issue – below are cases of children aged between 18 months and 16 who have died or been maimed as a result of becoming trapped by suction in a pool or spa/hot tub.  We believe that there are hundreds of thousands of older pools in holiday resorts, hotels and commercial pools in continental Europe that are not fit for purpose with regards to protection against entrapment.  

Real Life Entrapment Stories: these recorded incidents of entrapment may well have been avoided if the pools and spas had been fitted with a proven safety vacuum release system such as the Vac-Alert.

Teenage boy severely injured by suction in pool

A 14-year-old boy found himself in an extremely serious condition in ICU in La Fe de Valencia hospital.  The teenager was trapped underwater when his bottom was trapped by suction from a drain.  The youth became unconscious and sustained a perineal tear as a result of the strong suction of the pump.  It took a four-hour operation to save him from this life-threatening injury.  The accident took place during swimming lessons on in June 2017 at Valenciano Swimming Club in Carprese, Valencia Spain.   

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6 year old girl's hair ripped from her scalp

During a family holiday in Lanzarote 6 year old Darcey had a horrendous experience in the hotel pool. Darcey was swimming under water when her hair was sucked into the filter that operates a waterfall in the pool. Her hair was stuck and she was unable to get up to the surface. She was kept under the water for over 2 minutes. During that time some of her hair was torn from her scalp.

Some incredibly brave people saved Darcey, who was unconscious when she was brought out of the pool. She received CPR at the poolside and was then taken by ambulance to the Hospital where she underwent x-rays, tests and was under close observation. Her oxygen levels were low and she had a lot of fluid on her right lung. Thankfully, Darcey survived this terrible ordeal.

According to observers, two days prior to the incident with Darcey, the same filter sucked in a 9 year old boy’s swimming shorts as he swam past it. Apparently the lifeguards were informed on several occasions by holidaymakers prior to the incident with Darcey but no action was taken. It was also stated that neither the hotel management or the travel company have taken any remedial action to prevent this happening again.

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Toddler stuck in the tube of a pool

An 18 month old child had to be rescued after getting his arm stuck in the suction pipe in the children’s part of the pool at a holiday aparthotel – unaware of danger as young children are, the toddler put his arm inside the tube which immediately caused a vacuum and his arm became trapped in the tubing. Fire fighters released the boy and transferred him to hospital with his arm still inside the tube which measured 25-30cm. Removing the tube required patience and precision to ensure that the boy’s arm was not damaged, even so, it was inflamed. It apparently took several hours to remove the tubing. On top of going through this delicate procedure, the toddler also suffered hypothermia as a result of spending so much time in the water. A terrifying experience for anyone let alone a young child and his mother had to watch him go through such a terrible ordeal. 

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Five year old boy sucked into a hot tub underwater drain

The Sun reported that 5 year-old Sam nearly died after being sucked into a hot tub’s underwater drain whilst on a family holiday. Swimming over the hot tub’s drain, Sam’s tummy passed the grill and the strong suction pulled him forward and caused his flesh to seal a tiny 2cm gap – his mother said trying to pull him from the suction was like “pulling a slab of concrete”.

Despite frantic attempts to turn off the power, none of the control buttons switched off the spa – it took the full strength of two men to free Sam from the suction, which left him with bruising and cuts across his stomach. The report also said that after he was rescued, Sam was unconscious for a few seconds before coming round, vomiting and crying hysterically, traumatised by the experience. 

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12-year-old boy drowns after getting sucked into swimming pool drain 

A 12-year-old boy died while playing in the water park at Qinlong Hot Spring Hotel.  When he disappeared from his parent’s sight, they feared something had happened with the drain and shouted for help.  Apparently staff said it was impossible for a child to be sucked into the drain, but tragically they found the boy inside the hole after breaking the rockwork and a 2m deep pipe hidden in the ground.  The water park did not explain why there was no protective fence on the drain hole, but said that it would make a public announcement after coordinating with related department 

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Girl sucked into pool filter

The Herald Sun reported that a young French girl drowned while on holiday after her leg became trapped in the filter drain at the bottom of the hotel’s swimming pool. The accident happened when the girl jumped into the pool, landed on the drain of the pool's filter pump system, whose safety grill had broken off. A witness said the girl was "sucked into the filter drain, which did not have a grill over it" and lifeguards were not able to stop the machine in time. Despite valiant attempts, doctors were unable to revive her. The 4-star hotel was under investigation at the time the story was published.

Six-year-old Abigail, unaware of any danger, sat on an open drain in a wading pool and lost part of her intestinal tract to the drain’s powerful suction.  Her father said the suction caused a 2-inch tear in the child’s rectum and pulled out much of her small intestine. The pool’s drain hole was improperly uncovered.  Sadly the doctors had to remove her remaining intestines and she received nutrition through a port. Abigail lived for many months after the pool drain incident but ultimately, her injury caused her death.

After this horrific accident, Abigail’s parents campaigned for legislation that could help prevent similar accidents.  Ultimately, Congress approved legislation to ban the manufacture, sale or distribution of drain covers that do not meet anti-entrapment safety standards. 

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Four year old girl gets sucked into hot tub mechanism

Four-year-old Isabella was sucked into the mechanism of a hot tub at the Admiral Hotel. She and her mum were sitting close by in different corners of the hot tub enjoying the bubbles, but Isabella’s bottom became stuck in the filter which did not have its lid in place.

Her mum desperately tried to pull her free but Isabella was kept down by the force of the vacuum as she shouted ‘My tummy, my tummy’. It was only possible to release her when a lifeguard came to switch off the electrics. When she was finally released, her bowel was badly damaged.  Surgeons operated twice and removed part of her intestine and she had to be put into an induced coma as she fought for her life. 

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Lawsuit following death of young boy caused by entrapment in a spa

Relatives of 7-year-old Thomas who died after being pulled unconscious from a spa at the family’s rental home sued the landlord, a real estate company and the manufacturers of the spa’s pump. The boy was said to be a victim of suction entrapment, which causes a person to be sucked by powerful force against a spa drain, making it difficult to break free or to be rescued.  The lawsuit stated, “Many children have died and been catastrophically injured as a result of suction entrapment. 

The parents said the boy went underwater, in the vicinity of the spa drain, and his arm was sucked into the drain and he could not pull himself off the drain because of the strong suction. Family members struggled to save the boy and turn off the pump, and also called emergency services, but sadly he was pronounced dead at the hospital. 

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Horror injury to boy, 4, sparks swimming pool skimmer box warning

A fun afternoon in the garden swimming pool turned to disaster when a 4-year-old boy was partially disembowelled after sitting on a skimmer on a 29 year old pool.  Luke was rushed to the hospital after he sat on the pool’s skimmer with the lid off, which resulted in his bowels being partially sucked out.

Seeing the terrified look on his son’s face, Luke’s father realised with horror what had happened, quickly turning off the pump and ran to check his son. Lifting him up he found that his bottom was bruised and his bowels were out. “He’s lucky to be alive said his dad; he could’ve been completely disembowelled.” Luke wore a colostomy bag for 3-4 months, but thankfully it was expected that there would be no serious long-term damage.

This story highlighted the following issues/remedy:

  • The lids of old skimmers are easily removed, forming a basket-like indent, which if sat in, can create a seal and cause disembowelment

  • Pool maintenance workers still find many pools with old skimmers which are unsafe

  • Pool owners warned to check pools installed before 1988 and convert old-style skimmers to prevent life-threatening injuries  

  • There have also been problems with spa filters, including one incident where a girl’s hair was ripped off after being caught in a filter and another who was pinned to the bottom of a spa. 

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Keep an eye on drains

The death by drowning of 6-year-old Zachary when his arm became trapped inside an unprotected suction valve has drawn attention to the life-threatening hazard of pool and spa drains.

Zachary's arm became stuck in an intake valve whose protective grate covering was later found in the pool. When bystanders realised he was stuck, they shut down the pump by cutting the power to the house and freed the boy.   Zachery’s death, along with the accident in which 6 year-old Abigail was disembowelled by suction from an uncovered wading pool drain, raised questions in a debate over the best way to prevent pool and spa drain hazards. 

Prompted by Zachary's death, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission released an updated list of the top five household hazards, including pool and spa drain entrapment.  Between 1990 and 2005 the agency recorded 130 people trapped by the suction of pool and spa drains, resulting in 27 deaths.

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Avoidable death of a young girl

Eleven year old Shannon drowned when she was sucked underwater in a spa in a newly built apartment block. Shannon became trapped because of the significant pressure that resulted from a blockage in the main drains.  The spa had no emergency stop switch and the drain on the bottom was blocked.  Shannon’s father said his daughter had become trapped at the bottom of the spa and sucked down by 350 kilograms of pressure, which was so strong that three grown men were unable to free her before she drowned. 

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11 year old dies as her hair tangles in motor at bottom of pool

An 11-year-old Sofia lost her life after her hair became tangled in the blower motor on the bottom of a pool Daily Sabah reported. Sofia slid down a water slide into the resort’s pool, but her hair became caught in a blower motor at the bottom of the pool and she was unable to surface. Upon realising his daughter was stuck, her father jumped into the pool with a pair scissors to release Sofia’s hair from the motor and brought her to the pool deck.

After being submerged without oxygen for a long time, Sofia was taken to a local hospital where she was placed in an intensive care unit. As her condition worsened, she was flown by air ambulance to a hospital in her home country, Israel, for further treatment. Despite all the efforts of medics, Sofia died from her injuries. 

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Drain cover breakage leads to ace young swimmer's death

Teenager Shibani drowned in her school's swimming pool when her foot became stuck in the grating covering the suction drain of the pool, causing her to drown.

Sixteen year old Shibani was the school swimming champion and had gone swimming with other students and with permission from her instructor, stayed after the other students left to continue practising. Shibani jumped into the pool and when she failed to surface, the instructor jumped in to check on her and found her trapped.  He tried to pull her out, unaware that her leg was stuck in the suction drain. She called a male instructor who went underwater and noticed that the student’s leg was stuck in the suction drain. They managed to pull her out and tried to resuscitate her. She was rushed to hospital, but to no avail – Shibani lost her life.

Enquiries concluded that Shibani landed on the plastic cover, which broke on impact, trapping her leg in the suction drain.  Her father said “After speaking to the police we found out that the plastic screen covering the suction drain broke, so it was an accidental death and not because of the school’s negligence. The school actually went out of its way to help me and my family, and I do not blame them for my daughter’s death.”

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Injury to singer Usher's son prompts home pool warning  

A tragic pool drain accident involving singer Usher's son prompted the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to remind home pool owners that inexpensive drain covers are available.  Usher’s 5-year- old son was expected to recover, but at least 39 children died or were seriously injured between 2008-2012 when they were trapped or eviscerated by the powerful force of public and private pool drains.

From 2008, public pools were required to have anti-entrapment drain covers.  No public pool drain deaths have occurred since the new law took effect.  But the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act does not apply to home pools.  

The pool drain law was named after the late granddaughter of former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who drowned in 2002 after she was trapped under water by the powerful suction from a hot tub drain. The 7-year-old was a member of her community swim and diving team and was able to swim without assistance since she was 3, but was unable to pull herself free. Two men who eventually freed Baker from the spa pulled so hard that the drain cover broke from the force.

Even children who survive drain entrapment can face lifelong brain injuries due to the time spent under water. Whether children have their limbs trapped in the drains or their internal organs eviscerated, the injuries and causes of death are horrific when pool drains are involved.

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Businessman killed in freak hot tub accident on holiday

A businessman on holiday with his family drowned in an accident involving a hot tub at the Four Seasons hotel.  According to Phoenix, while Wu was relaxing in a hot tub, a malfunction occurred with the pumping system. Because of the powerful suction, Wu’s buttocks became stuck in the outlet, preventing him from raising his head above the water.  According to the report, it took 20 minutes before hotel staff switched off the system. 

How to Prevent Entrapment    

Entrapment can occur due to faulty outlets, but the primary reason is the lack of two main drains in the bottom of the pool.  When a swimmer gets too close to a single drain they are pulled onto the drain and become trapped by a tremendous pump suction that is almost impossible to break – you will see below in a couple of the cases a pool component had to be ripped out with the person still attached to it. When these incidences happen, often it takes too long to deactivate electrical controls.

To greatly reduce the risk of entrapment, pools should be fitted with an anti-entrapment device.  UK pool industry standards were updated about 10 years ago, but contrary to perceived wisdom the risk of entrapment is not removed by installing a dual deep suction system. US research shows this still presents a safety risk. The effective way to eliminate risk is to fit a safety vacuum release system that protects against suction entrapment.

The MSI Vac-Alert Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS) is a non-electrical self-monitoring, low-maintenance safety system that responds in milliseconds to an increase in pump suction created by a swimmer being held by suction on the main drain.  The device automatically releases the pressure freeing anyone who comes into contact with suction.

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These summaries from editorials published globally are real life case studies of the devastating effects of children becoming entrapped in a pool/spa drain or another mechanism. It is believed that none of these pools were fitted with an anti-entrapment device that would result in immediate release if someone becomes trapped by suction.

To read more articles on the safety of swimming pools and entrapment, visit these pages:

Stop Life-Threatening Risk of Entrapment in Pools 
MSI Supports Campaign to Raise Awareness of Pool Entrapment

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