Range Pond depth an issue in student drowning

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POLAND — The deep end of the roped-off area at Range Pond where a Lewiston student drowned Tuesday is 8 to 10 feet deep, Maine Department of Agriculture spokesman John Bott said.

The roped area is not for wading, it is for swimming, Bott said, adding that is the norm at state parks.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands is under the Maine Deparment of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said he was surprised to learn the roped area is that deep. Not knowing how deep the swimming area was “is clearly one of our deficiencies,” Webster said Friday. “There is no consistency from park to park. I am very surprised it is that much.” 

Webster said that is one of the things he wants clarified when a report on what happened is completed. “Was there enough awareness of everybody of the depths of the water?” he said, referring to adult chaperones of Lewiston Middle School students.

The school field trip group included 113 students, 11 chaperones and one lifeguard.

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Webster said he’d like to see the state parks post signs on the depths of the deep end in the roped-in swimming areas. That, he said, would be a wake-up call to adults.

Webster referred to an article in Slate Magazine, which reported that research shows that often when someone is drowning, it may not be obvious to others.

Rayan Issa, 13, a Lewiston Middle School seventh-grader, was playing football with classmates in the roped-in area. Going for the football, Rayan ended up in water over his head. He went under and didn’t come back up, Webster said.

Indications are that he may not have known how to swim, Webster has said, adding that too many Lewiston students don’t know how to swim.

Webster has canceled all water-related field trips and is drafting a more detailed parental permission slip. Summer school programs in Lewiston begin July 2, and typically involve field trips once a week. It’s now not clear whether any of those trips will include water-based activities.

Webster has asked the school department’s attorney to investigate the drowning and give a detailed report on what happened. Police also are investigating.

Bott said the depth of designated swimming areas at state parks vary based on steepness of slope, favorable lake bottom conditions and absence of structures.

If the ropes were pulled in to make the area 3 to 4 feet deep, for example, the water would still be over some children’s heads, he said. And if the swimming area was too narrow, there would be problems of swimmers going outside the ropes and creating other types of safety risks, Bott said.

“People can drown in a minimum amount of water. You have to be careful,” Bott said. State parks follow the best practices as recommended by the American Red Cross, Bott said.

When Rayan was reported missing Tuesday, the first information given to the lifeguard was that the student was missing, not that he was in the water, Bott said. It was 5 to 10 minutes before the lifeguard was told the boy was in the water, “and I’m being conservative,” he said.

The water search was complicated, Bott said, because the water was murky, which is natural for this time of year. The situation called for forming a human chain to look for the boy, who ultimately was underwater for half an hour.

A review by state officials indicates that park personnel followed standard procedures, including giving a safety talk and recommended the buddy system be used, Bott said. “(Staff) did everything they could to try and prevent this tragedy.”

“Everyone is heartbroken,” he said.

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Children play on the beach at Range Pond State Park in Poland on Tuesday afternoon. (Sun Journal file photo)

About Rayan Issa

Not knowing how deep is the swimming area “is clearly one of our deficiencies.”

— Lewiston school Superintendent Bill Webster

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