I know that many people who read this blog do so because they travel to El Salvador on church mission trips -- perhaps to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, to run a medical clinic, or to drill a well. I am often asked about how to stay safe in El Salvador. One thing I uniformly answer is that more people die on mission trips to El Salvador drowning in the ocean than for any other cause.
I was reminded of this again when I read today of the tragic death of a 54-year old man from Bloomington, Illinois who drowned while swimming off the coast of El Salvador. He had traveled to El Salvador with his church to work on building houses for the poor.
Unfortunately, he is one of several who have come to El Salvador to help, but tragically die during a day of relaxation on a Pacific ocean beach. Others include:
- A Baptist worker from Missouri in April 2007
- A mother from Huntington, West Virginia in July 2005
- A Seventh Day Adventist pastor from New Jersey in February 2002.
- A Canadian working with SalvAide in 1988.
- A Peace Corps Volunteer, January 1969.
The US State Department advice to travelers to El Salvador includes this statement:
Strong undertows and currents can make swimming at El Salvador's Pacific Coastal beaches extremely dangerous for even strong and experienced swimmers. As an example of this hazard, during a single seven-day holiday period, nine Salvadoran citizens drowned while swimming at Pacific beaches. In one month alone, three U.S. citizens drowned while swimming at Pacific beaches in La Libertad and La Paz Departments.El Salvador ranks number 17 worldwide in per capita drowning rate with a reported 42 drownings per million people.
So PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Certainly enjoy El Salvador's beautiful beaches, but follow prudent water safety practices. Don't exceed your own swimming ability. Make sure you talk with someone who knows the beach where you will be swimming and can explain where rip tides and other hazards may exist. Learn about what to do if you get caught in a rip tide:
The real danger with rip currents is not that you're getting pulled away from shore, but how you react.The web page which provided that advice also has more detailed safety information at this link.
Most swimmers will panic and try to swim against the current. They will tire quickly and soon go under.
The key to surviving a rip current is to swim out of it, not against it. This is done by swimming parallel to shore.
Since rip currents are fairly narrow you will be out of the “rip” in no time. You can either swim back to shore or let the waves help you back in.