Drowning victim was a great swimmer, family says as RCMP urge caution amid rash of fatalities

RCMP are warning Manitobans to be careful when out in open water after three people drowned in three separate incidents last Friday.

Manitoba RCMP have reported four separate drowning deaths since May 29, each on open water. But three of those occurred on June 4.

“This is extraordinary to have this many in this short amount of time,” said Tara Seel, RCMP spokesperson.

A 68-year-old man from the rural municipality of La Broquerie was fishing in Moose Lake in northern Manitoba on May 29 when he lost balance and fell out of the boat. The man, who wasn’t wearing a life jacket, was unable to get back into the boat and went under, police say.

The woman, 65, who was with him in the boat travelled to the nearest cottage and called for help. Police and the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART) searched the lake and found the man’s body that night, RCMP say.

Around 3:30 p.m. on June 4, Mounties in Lac du Bonnet, Man., responded to a drowning just south at the Whitemouth River, near the Elma Bridge crossing about 90 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The investigation so far has found a 39-year-old man slipped on rocks near the water and fell into the flowing river. Attempts were made to rescue the man until someone was able to get a canoe onto the water and grab him, police say.

The man was brought to shore and CPR was being performed on him when Mounties arrived, but he was pronounced dead at the scene, police say.

Later that day, shortly after 7 p.m., RCMP in Portage la Prairie responded to a call about a 17-year-old boy who went under while swimming at the Portage Diversion on Lake Manitoba.

Investigators believe the teen was swimming with friends and slipped off a sandbar into deeper water. His friends were eventually able to get him to shore and a bystander began CPR until paramedics arrived, but the teen was pronounced dead at the scene, police say.

Around the same time Mounties in Steinbach responded to a possible drowning at Reynolds Pond near Richer, Man., a community just over 55 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. 

Sandeep Bandaru, 24, was swimming with two friends when he tried swimming to a little island about 100 to 150 metres from shore. But he turned around when part way there. Police suspect it was because he was tired, said Seel.

The RCMP are urging caution for Manitobans spending time on open water after three people drowned last Saturday. (Submitted by Rachel Sawatzky)

He started going under and a friend swam out to him to try to help, but the man did not resurface. The RCMP’s underwater recovery team found the man dead on June 5, police say.

“It’s such a big loss for our family,” said brother Sanjay Bandaru, who lives in New York. “We never expected this because he was a great swimmer.”

The Bandaru family spent part of their youth in Ireland, swimming for their schools. Sandeep had a reputation for being a skilled swimmer, so to die this way is a shock to the family, said Bandaru.

“It’s such a freak accident, I feel,” he said.

Sandeep Bandaru was a pilot and instructor at Harv’s Air, a flight school in southern Manitoba. His brother launched a GoFundMe campaign to be able to pay for his body to be sent to Visakhapatnam, a city on India’s east coast where his parents live.

The family is of the Hindu faith. Per tradition, the body of the deceased must be flown home and seen by the parents in order to let the person’s soul rest, explained Bandaru.

RCMP recommend that people wear life jackets when going in open water, swim with a buddy and know about the body of water in which they are swimming, including depths and potential obstacles that could affect the water. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The GoFundMe campaign had raised over $43,000 as of 10:30 p.m. Monday.

RCMP are still investigating the drownings, but nothing is leading investigators to believe anything untoward occurred, said Seel.

Despite the recent heat wave, summer doesn’t officially start for another couple of weeks. So the RCMP are urging Manitobans to stay safe when doing anything in open water.

“There are so many unknowns in open water,” said Seel, citing currents, water temperature and potential objects or obstacles in the water.

Police recommend that, whether swimming or riding a watercraft of some kind, people wear life jackets, don’t go out on the water alone, and to be as knowledgeable as possible about the body of water in which they are swimming.

Bandaru also urges caution, regardless of how skilled at swimming individuals may be.

“We might fall into a situation where you don’t have enough control,” he said.

“My brother was a great swimmer. It’s very unfortunate for him to have drowned, even though it was just a pond.”