Death of swimmer off Fujairah coast in UAE prompts invention

A high-tech sonar safety system will monitor swimmers in the open water events at the world championships.

SHANGHAI // The death of Fran Crippen, the American swimmer, in the UAE last year has prompted the introduction of a high-tech sonar safety system which will monitor swimmers in the open water events at the world championships.

Crippen, a six-time US national champion, died in October near the end of a 10 kilometres marathon World Cup event in warm temperatures off the coast of Fujairah. No one noticed him slip beneath the surface and his body was not found until two hours later.

The new system, which aims to prevent tragedies like that, involves an overlay that covers the entire 2.5km rectangular course, sending out a ping once every second.

The system was developed by Ronnie Wong, the chairman of swimming governing body Fina's technical open water swimming committee, reportedly at a cost US$300,000 (Dh1.1 million).

"I'm not a technical expert but my understanding is that on the sonar screen on the referee's boat if there is a signal that a swimmer drops one metre below the surface, the referee can then take immediate measures and send in a rescue team," Dennis Miller, the open water bureau liaison for Fina, said.

Coaches were informed of the sonar system for the first time at a team meeting yesterday.

"It sounds like a great idea," Jack Fabian, the US coach, said. "Anything to keep track of people is a good idea."

Fabian, who was at the race where Crippen died, said the route for improved safety in open water is by securing "surveillance and rescue". He would like to see standards for lifeguards at races.

An independent task force appointed by Fina to investigate Crippen's death reported in April that "inadequate surveillance and safety measures made it difficult, and at times impossible to recognise and act upon an athlete in distress".

Racing in Jinshan City Beach opens today with the women's 10km event.

Published: July 19, 2011 04:00 AM