Australia typically sees six deaths each year in which people drown trying to save family members. With the count for January hitting three within the first week of the month alone, the Guardian decided to take a look at why rescuers "often perish" while trying to save family members and what precautions can help prevent that fate. It recaps the recent cases: an off-duty cop "was dragged out to sea by a 'substantial' rip" after pushing his 14-year-old son to shore on New Year's Day, reports Australia's ABC. Two days later, a 42-year-old died while trying to save his teen daughter from a rip current; she was rescued by a surfer, per ABC. Two days after that, a 52-year-old woman drowned while attempting to save her 11-year-old.
At least one more drowning of a would-be rescuer has occurred since the Guardian published its piece. Amy Peden, a water safety expert with the University of New South Wales, says it's typically a person rescuing a child or someone they know in these cases, and that it is often the case that the rescuer is the one who ends up dying. "The adrenaline wears off, the exhaustion kicks in, the effort it takes to get out to someone ... and keep them above water, the exertion of it, with people grabbing on to you, is too much," she says.
She advises that parents actually pause before instinctively running in and taking the time to find a flotation device: "a boogie board, a pool noodle ... they might have a two-litre bottle of drinking water—anything that can hold air." Indeed, in 2020 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a study of 67 Australians who drowned during rescue attempts since 2004 found that 97% of the victims went into the water without a flotation device. (Read more drowning stories.)