Get Out Alive: How to survive dangerous water situations

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 11, 2015)-- Every day, up to ten people in the U.S. die from unintentional drowning. Water is powerful and unpredictable. In Indiana, the danger extends to our rivers, lakes, streams and flood waters.

"Flood waters are just very unpredictable," said Max Winchell, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Conservation Officer.

Water is the liquid of life, but it's also a killer.

"The Edinburgh incident was a tragedy," said Jet Quillen, an IDNR Conservation Officer.

It was June 6 last year. Five Franklin teens went swimming in the Big Blue River in Johnson County. Sarah McLevish got swept into a low-head dam. Four boys went after her, but only two would survive. Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne died.

"There is so much danger in water. And people don't understand it," said Rosa Freeland.

Rosa Freeland's mother Doris Martin drowned in April as she and her husband were cleaning out a draining ditch. Swift-moving water carried her almost a mile down.

"We've lost a lot of people kayaking in flooded waters, and they're just not prepared for the water conditions," said Winchell.

Officers with the IDNR said it's key that swimmers know the area.

Low-head dams are common throughout Indiana and used for flood control, but they're also known as drowning machines.

"You can be in a canoe or kayak or floating in an inner tube. And if you're not familiar with the area, you might not know you're approaching a low head dam," said Lt. Dan Dulin, District Commander with IDNR Law Enforcement.

Water cresting over the top of the dam creates a circular current once it hits the water below. Items or people can easily be caught in the current and tossed up and down for hours or days.

FOX59's Kendall Downing moved upstream away from the low-head dam for a simulation. He first got in a kayak and simulated that it turned over.

"It's important if you are in the water to keep yourself on your back," said Lt. Dulin.

Dulin advises him to stay on his back, with legs out in front of him, feet downstream, and his head pointed to the shore, using the current to help.

Conservation officers also advised Downing on the proper way to catch a rescue rope bag, placing it over your opposite shoulder and angling your head to the shore.

Officers said if you're approaching a low-head dam, swim as hard as you can to get away from it. If you get caught in the dam, try to kick off the bottom to help push you out.

Bottom line, survey the area where you'll be swimming. And never underestimate the strength of the water.

"A lot of times people do not realize the unseen danger that it creates," said Dulin. ‚Äč