A witness has described how complete strangers banded together in a bid to try and find a man after he disappeared beneath the water of the Murrumbidgee River at Casuarina Sands on Thursday afternoon.
ACT Policing have confirmed that a 35-year-old man died at the popular swimming spot on Thursday, with a report to be prepared for the coroner.
Police divers were needed to search for the man, understood to be a local, and he was located just before dark, said Superintendent Jason Kennedy.
Police wouldn't comment on whether the man drowned or had a medical episode, although it's believed the man had been trying to help his children out of a deep patch of water.
Police confirmed the man was at the river with his wife and two small children.
A person involved in the attempted rescue said that a young woman was sent to call triple-zero, flagging down a car to drive to higher ground for reception.
Around 20 people were part of the effort to find the man, taking turns in a buddy system to dive into the murky river water and search.
"There was one man and he was mentioning he could taste blood in his mouth because he was pushing himself so hard," the witness, who asked not to be named, said.
"I was reminded how good people can be."
"The effort people put in was commendable."
Chief executive of Royal Life Saving ACT Cherry Bailey said those who attempted to help the man should be applauded, but she urged anyone who may find themselves in a similar position to always first ensure they don't also come to harm.
"The message there would be to consider your own safety as paramount and never put yourself into a position where you could add to your trauma," Ms Bailey said.
Casuarina Sands had been identified as an "area of concern," Ms Bailey said.
Royal Life Saving ACT is hoping to run a pilot program for life-saving services at the ACT's inland waterways within the next three years, with plans to put a formal proposal to the ACT government during the next few months.
"It used to be done quite a few years ago at a few locations across Canberra," Ms Bailey said.
"We're trying to get in a position where we can resource it in a sustainable way".
Royal Life Saving would consult with the community about what the pilot program would look like, but Casuarina Sands would be the obvious starting point for a pilot location, Ms Bailey said, with possible expansion to Lake Burley Griffin and Lake Ginninderra.
Life savers would focus on prevention and educating people about how to have fun safely, Ms Bailey said, as well as adding skilled sets of eyes to watch over swimmers.
Royal Life Saving Australia had two main messages for those seeking to cool off in Canberra's waterways - be aware of environmental factors and your own abilities in the water.
"Be aware of the currents that exist in the rivers, the ever changing conditions. People are constantly surprised how different the river is from one year to the next. What was one or two foot deep one summer might be eight foot this summer. [Look out for] submerged obstacles, also the combination of drinking alcohol and swimming is a factor," Ms Bailey said.
"If you're going to be swimming in inland waterways or areas that are unsupervised be well aware of what you are capable of."
ACT Policing said the drowning was a tragedy but also a timely reminder for people to take care whether they are swimming in waterways, or public or private pools.
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