Girl drowns after being caught by spa pump

March 27, 2006

AN 11-year-old girl has died after becoming trapped underwater while "duck diving" in a poolside spa at an upmarket NSW coastal resort.

Shannon Rankin, from Forster on the NSW mid-north coast, was caught by the suction pump on the spa's floor on Saturday afternoon and despite the efforts of poolside guests she could not be prised free, even after the pump was switched off.

For eight minutes Shannon remained wedged underwater as four men tried first to pull her free, then to empty the spa using buckets.

Her parents David and Donna Rankin, who own one of the complex's apartments, arrived at the pool just as their daughter's body was being carried from the spa.

Shannon's death prompted calls yesterday from the NSW Government, supported by Royal Lifesaving Australia, for a nationwide review of the safety and standards that apply to pool spas.




Craig Gill and Penny Kirby, who live near the Forster apartment complex, ran to help when they heard a girl screaming that her best friend was drowning.

"You hear screaming all the time with their playing and all, but it started getting louder and louder," Mr Gill said. "That's not normal."

He then joined the three men already in the pool bailing out spa water with buckets, but it was to no avail.

Ms Kirby estimated Shannon was under water for seven to eight minutes. "Her lips were blue and her body was white when they pulled her out, and she just flopped onto the ground," she said.

Shannon, the middle of the three Rankin children, was given CPR by ambulance officers immediately after being pulled out. She was flown by rescue helicopter to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle but was pronounced dead on arrival.

The Forster drowning comes just two weeks after the near-drowning of an eight-year-old girl whose hair became caught in a spa suction point at a home in Mosman on Sydney's north shore.

Inspector Allan Fidock from the Forster police said the spa's suction pump appeared to have grabbed her stomach. The design, construction and operation of the spa would be a crucial part of the investigation, he said.

Royal Lifesaving Australia chief executive Rob Bradley called for mandatory cut-off switches on spa pumps and mesh guards.

"Royal Lifesaving has been pushing for mandatory switches on spas so that when suction gets too strong, because something is obviously blocking the suction, there is an automatic cut-off switch," he said.

"There is also a guard that can be fitted over the suction point so that nothing can get sealed over it."

NSW Fair Trading Minister Diane Beamer has asked her department to determine whether there should be a review of safety standards.

Glen Lynch, manager of Spa World at Seven Hills in Sydney, said all new spas were built with two suction points and a "weir skimmer", which made such accidents impossible.

He said the problem might have arisen because the Forster spa was built off a swimming pool and not by a normal spa manufacturer.

"It has been a shock to the industry," he said. "Where was the safety inspector?"

Greg Randall, owner of Beaches International opposite the Sevan Apartments, said: "You look at your own kids and take a deep breath. It is incredibly sad. There must be a million-odd spas around Australia, in resorts and homes."





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