Mother whose teenage son drowned swimming in river supports Swim Safe scheme

A mother whose son drowned while swimming in a North Wales river is backing an outdoor swim safety scheme teaching hundreds of children how to stay safe in the open water.

Debbie Turnbull’s son Christopher drowned after he was trapped underwater swimming in the Pont Cyfyng Falls, near Capel Curig, Gwynedd, in August 2006. He was 15 years old.

Now Debbie, who has been a tireless water safety education campaigner since Christopher’s tragic death, is advocating Swim Safe, a free programme of outdoor swimming and water safety sessions for children which came to Wales for the first time this week.

The Swim Safe sessions, which are delivered in partnership between the ASA (Amateur Swimming Association), Swim Wales and the RNLI charity (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), kicked off at Plas Menai National Outdoor Centre near Caernarfon on Monday (11 July). The first four days are for school groups, before three days of sessions for the general public from Friday until Sunday. Practical, interactive, educational and fun, each session includes a land-based safety lesson with a lifeguard and in-water tuition with a swimming teacher, with wetsuits, swimming hats and a free goody bag with t-shirt all provided.

Debbie, who is approaching the 10th anniversary of her son’s death next month, said: ‘Christopher lost his life swimming in a spot he had been to many times before and knew well and he was a strong swimmer. You can be a really confident pool swimmer but swimming in open water brings its own challenges. So, it’s really important that both children and parents know the dangers of open water swimming and how to stay safe.’

Swim Safe sessions are for children aged between seven and 14 and hundreds of children have already signed up and will be taking part in Swim Safe at Plas Menai this week.

Debbie, originally from Llandudno but now living in Holywell, Flintshire, added: ‘I am 100% behind the Swim Safe programme as it’s great to see the RNLI, the ASA and Swim Wales all pulling together to increase education about water safety for children.

‘So many children are learning skills to help keep them safe in the open water and judging on today’s evidence it looks like they’re having great fun at the same time.’

Hope Filby, Swim Safe Coordinator at Plas Menai, said: ‘There are all sorts of environmental factors to consider when you’re swimming outdoors and it’s important that children know how to call for help if they get into trouble.

‘It is great to be the first place in Wales to run the Swim Safe scheme and we’re delighted so many children are here learning vital safety tips and techniques for swimming in the open water in time for the summer holidays.’

Today (Wednesday 13 July) Plas Menai also plays host to the Safety Outdoors Day, where a range of emergency services and other agencies will be showing off their work and equipment.

Children will get to take part in mountain biking sessions with Cycling Wales and get to see the RNLI and North Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s Flood Rescue Teams in action on the water.

Swim Wales, Mountain Rescue England and Wales and the Outdoor Partnership will also be on hand with demonstrations and advice on how to stay safe in the outdoors this summer.

Some places are still available for Friday’s Swim Safe sessions. Parents can book their children on now at

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