EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

April 16, 2014

Icy river dives put lives at risk

Many New Hampshire teens — and apparently plenty of adults — have embraced a foolish spring dare, the “Polar Plunge.”

Participants jump into the state’s swollen rivers, icy cold ponds and lakes without benefit of a life jacket — or very much gray matter.

The phenomenon is widespread enough to prompt an “urgent warning” from the state’s Fish and Game Department Monday.

Yesterday, Fish and Game divers were searching for the body of a 32-year-old man in the Smith River in Bristol, presumed drowned after taking the plunge.

A large group of kids in the North Country reportedly planned a jump into the Connecticut River, according to Fish and Game officials. Anyone who has seen that river recently knows it is roiling, fast moving and filled with debris, including chunks of ice, some of which travel beneath the surface.

The snow may have disappeared from local lawns, but there’s plenty left up north and the snow melt sends rivers over their banks and currents racing.

Not surprisingly, members of the state’s dive team, the very people who respond to drownings in the Granite State, are very concerned.

But, surprisingly, many parents who responded to a warning posted on the Derry News Facebook page scoffed at those concerns.

Some pointed to traditional Polar Plunges, generally held around New Year’s at the coast as a reason why this activity is no big deal. There’s quite a significant difference between an organized fundraising dash into the Atlantic with EMTs standing by and a group of foolish teens plunging into waters unknown, presumably without supervision.

Supervision is needed when anyone jumps into water the temperature of the state’s lakes, ponds and rivers in mid-April. Even the best swimmer can be rendered helpless in short order in those temperatures, according to the N.H. Marine Patrol. Water temperature around the state remains in the 30s.

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