Ont. police advise swimmers to stay away from waterfalls after Muskoka drownings

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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BALA, Ont. - After five people were swept away in four days by rapid, churning waters in Muskoka, the summer playground of central Ontario, police have a message for swimmers thinking of entering similar waterways: just don't.
Three men drowned Sunday at the Moon River Falls and Wednesday two more men were swept away at a waterfall nearby on the same river. One of them is in hospital but on life support.
The falls are relatively small in size, but are still powerful, with water churning in several directions at the base and a mass of rocks hiding just below the surface. Despite the obvious danger, both the Moon River Falls and Bala Falls remain summer hot spots.
"We have a number of waterfalls in the area, most of which are signed warning of dangers associated to falls and still we continue to have people swimming in and around them and putting themselves at risk," said Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Ed Medved.
"(But) signs are for people who are interested in paying attention to the signs and heeding the advice of the signs."
Medved is the detachment commander of the police force in Bracebridge, serving the Muskoka region, which he called the "playground" for the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. The frequency of fatal drownings this summer is "unprecedented," Medved said, but in a place rife with waterways unfamiliar to the hordes of out-of-towners who flock to the region in droves, such incidents are not entirely unexpected.
Locals don't tend to be the ones to get in trouble on the water as they are more aware of the area, he said, adding there is a base level of danger associated with swimming anywhere.
"It's a risky activity and particularly if you are either a non-swimmer or a weak swimmer," Medved said.
"In and around fast-flowing water typically it's quite unpredictable in terms of what's going on beneath the surface."
Nadim Shah, 44, from Illinois, drowned at Bala Falls on Wednesday after jumping in to rescue his nine-year-old daughter. She is fine, but Shah's brother, Ghulam Badar, 53, from Mississauga, Ont., who also tried to help the girl, is on life support in hospital. The two men were "weak swimmers at best," Medved said.
Peter Ludian, 21, who was visiting from Poland, Vladimir Tsimfer, 31, of Mississauga, and Vladimir Sirghi, 22, of Barrie, Ont., were cliff-jumping at Moon River Falls when they drowned Sunday afternoon.
Police haven't determined their swimming ability, but "it's my understanding even a strong swimmer would have a tremendous amount of difficulty managing the Moon River Falls," Medved said.
Workers at shops around Bala Falls, many of them young cottagers who consider themselves "summer locals," say lots of people familiar with the area swim there, but only when they think it's safe enough.
"It's popular for the locals and stuff, but most of the time if the water was as high as it was because it rained so much in the past couple days and the locks were open so the water was going so fast...when the water's like that normally people don't swim in it," said 18-year-old Alexx Petrie.

Geographic location: Muskoka, Moon River Falls, Ontario BALA Mississauga Bracebridge Greater Toronto Area Illinois Poland Barrie

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