Drowning death toll hits 18 as toddler fights for life
NSW Premier Mike Baird is facing demands for a hard-hitting advertising campaign to halt the unprecedented number of drowning deaths and injuries over the holiday season - which grew worse yesterday as a young boy was pulled unconscious from a backyard pond.
Two-year-old Henry Tran was fighting for his life in hospital last night after relatives discovered him motionless in the pond at a property in Fairfield, less than 24 hours after Vera Peacock, 2, drowned in a pool at Macquarie Fields in Sydney's southwest.
Late last night there was a further death when 83-year-old former Family Court judge Richard Gee was found dead in a northern beaches swimming pool. He was found by a family member at 10.10pm at the Belrose home.
In Fairfield, Henry Tran's cousin Amy Ung, who gave the boy CPR when he was found in the small pond, urged people to "please just pray for him, send him your prayers".
Ms Ung urged parents to watch their children closely this summer as the drowning toll continues to rise.
"We were just sitting in the backyard chatting to each other and he disappeared and no one noticed," she said.
"You can't keep your eye off them for a moment."
A neighbour who heard screams and rushed to help said Henry was barely responding to compressions.
"I came out and saw the boy lying on the ground ... he was already unconscious and they were yelling 'Help, help, help!' " said Ramsey Vong, 33.
"I was breathing into his mouth and water came out but his eyes were closed.
"We tried and I hope so much that we saved him."
Another death was confirmed yesterday as the body of swimmer Wayne Cornwall, aged in his 40s, was recovered in the Snowy Mountains. Mr Cornwall, from Cooma, disappeared at Lake Eucumbene on New Year's Day. His body was found by police divers.
A total of 18 people have drowned in NSW since Christmas Day, prompting calls for an urgent campaign to give families a stark reminder about water safety.
Eighty-three children have drowned in backyard pools in NSW since 2003, while more than 90 kids have suffered brain injuries.
The push for action to halt the horrific drowning toll comes as the state government's advertising budget, including safety campaigns, has been cut from nearly $120 million in 2008 to just $68 million in 2016.
It follows a 2011 Coalition election pledge to cut what was seen as wasteful advertising spending under Labor.
The government provided $100,000 for Royal Life Saving's new social media and radio ad campaign aimed at reducing backyard pool deaths.
But RLS doesn't have the money to reach a wider audience, leading acting Opposition Leader Michael Daley to claim the government was putting its bottom line above safety.
"Drownings have dramatically increased," he said.
"It's time the government stepped in and took some responsibility," Mr Daley said.
RLS state operations manager Michael Ilinksy said the main cause of backyard pool deaths was someone leaving pool gates open and he urged the government to do more to create awareness of the issue.
He also believes other sports are squeezing swimming lessons out of the school curriculum, creating a generation of kids without adequate water skills. "Advertising and public awareness are crucial," Mr Ilinsky said.
The Baird government will discuss the dramatic rise in drowning deaths at its February cabinet meeting and consider "all options" to tackle the issue.
A spokesman for Mr Baird told The Daily Telegraph: "Any drowning death is a tragedy and this holiday season has been particularly heartbreaking."