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Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Over the weekend, the Forest Department was notified of two separate drowning incidents at the Rio On Pools in Mountain Pine Ridge. The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management has requested an internal investigation into the two incidents while the police investigation is ongoing. The department wishes to express heartfelt condolences to the families of the two children who died in these incidents.

The department warns the public about the risks of swimming in the Mountain Pine Ridge recreational areas. Close adult supervision is strongly recommended, especially when children are using natural pool formations, as lifeguards are not stationed at these locations. The department also discourages the consumption of alcohol while swimming.

The Forest Department is reviewing all visitor safety protocols to address any potential gaps. In the coming weeks, a public awareness campaign will be initiated to remind visitors of the risks associated with recreation at the sites, as well as safety measures to ensure a safe visitor experience.

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Two Children Drown In Separate Weekend Incidents At Rio On Pools

Two children- both tourists-lost their lives in separate drawings this weekend- both at the Rio On pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

The first tragedy happened on Saturday when 6 year old Isaac Pipersburgh leapt off a rock into the pool doing what he called a "cannonball". His mother who had told him to wait felt a pang of fear at that moment not yet knowing that that leap would be Isaac's last.

The family - which has Belizean roots - had come to Belize on vacation for the dual purposes of celebrating a slew of graduations as well as the couple's 10-year-Anniversary. They will return having endured the ultimate tragedy in the death of their 6 year old son. Still mourning today the couple who chose to speak off camera sat down with Cherisse Halsall in San Ignacio. Here is what they told us about the vibrant joyful child who, for them, now sleeps a deathless sleep.

Mark Pipersburgh, Issac's Father
"We arrived at the pools, the Rio On pools had lunch about 12:30 and I first took him down, he likes to explore and just held his hand, we went down just to explore how deep the water was, how cold the water was, ran around and he went back to his mom to get his floaties. We put his floaties on his arm the sunblock. We jumped in the water went all over the place. Eventually he started to wander just up to the higher water and there were cousins all over the place so we thought it'll be okay. He has his floaties on. Esther was around trying not to slip."

Esther Pipersburgh, Issac's mother
"He was behind me and Mark was behind Issac helping his aunt to mauever in the water and he was behind me and I was navigating through the rocks trying not to slip. When I went through this one area of the path that I was trying to get to I could see this little stream. I could see it wasn't deep but I could feel with my foot that it was slippery so I was slowly. I was looking down making sure I was sure of my step and in that moment when I looked down Issac went or veered in the other direction towards my right and then I saw him running, running, running. I got across I looked over at him and I said Issac wait for your dad and at that moment he, what was the word that was used?"

Mark Pipersburgh, Issac's Father
"He jumped in."

Esther Pipersburgh, Issac's mother
"No, but what was the word that was used? A cannonball."

"He did a cannonball. At that moment he did a cannonball and I yelled for Mark and Mark started slowly coming up towards where Issac was and I'm looking waiting for him to come up I saw his hat come up and then that floated away and I thought you know that makes sense since there was no strap. And then I saw one of his floaties pop up and i thought it was his arm and I thought okay the rest of him will follow, nope that one floated away, and then when his second floaty came up I panicked and by that time I think Mark was already near and looking. So when that second floaty came up I screamed I yelled I was yelling for him, I was crying. I went completely crazy."

"And with me screaming everyone that was there heard it and they all came to help look for Isaac. Everyone came looking for Issac. People from the area who were tourists too or I don't know just a lot of people over there and they canvassed the waters looking at the different pools. Some drove up to a certain location, they drove up to the lookout point. Some more people came they went up to the mountain calling for him. I went back to the car to see if he was there. But I knew, I knew he was stuck, I knew he was in some crevice because he never came out. Someone would have seen Issac come out and he never came out."

Cherisse Halsall:
"I have to ask you guys both of you, you seem incredibly strong how is it that your able to hold on in this manner at this time when this is so fresh?"

Mark Pipersburgh, Issac's Father
"Lots of prayers, the brothers had just left here. They shared a lot of scriptures with us - they are very encouraging. We've had a lot of support with our family here, there were more family that was here yesterday, they left and some more is coming tomorrow. We've been on the phone day and night with family. I've told the story multiple times already, but yeah."

Cherisse Halsall:
"Is there a particular piece of scripture that has kind of grounded you to the reality that you find yourselves in right now?"

Esther Pipersburgh, Issac's mother
"I feel like really for me it's the one being that we're all Jehovah Witnesses that is very common, that we share with those when we're out in the ministries and it's revelation 21:04 and when I think about it. It just makes more sense. Do you want to read it Marky?"

Mark Pipersburgh, Issac's Father
"Revelation 21:04 says and he will wipe out every tear from their eyes and death will be no more, neither will mourning, nor outcry, nor pain be no more. The former things have passed away."

Esther Pipersburgh, Issac's mother
"We see issac as he's sleeping you know a long nap. We have our moments and I've wailed so much . I've wailed, a lot, a lot, I feel that between all our tears there have been more tears than the waters that took our son."

And Isaac's parents told Channel 7 that they aren't leaving Belize without him, as much as they want to get back to their home in Phoneix Arizona they will stay here until Isaac's autopsy is concluded and until they can secure all the necessary paperwork to make sure he can fly home with them.

Second Drowning Victim Was 8

And not even a day later, another child, this time an eight-year-old Cerys McTaggart from Boise, Idaho also lost her life at the Rio On pools.

Her family too was on vacation enjoying the natural beauty of the Pine Ridge area and never for a moment thinking that their jaunt into the crystal waters would cost their daughter her life.

Her father Joshua Mctaggart says he'd only missed her for a moment gave way to an hour-long search and when Cerys was finally found her body had been trapped in a hole between two pools. ASP FitzRoy Yearwood told us more today:

ASP Fitzroy Yearwood, Communications Officer
"I know that San Ignacio Police responded to the Rio Frio Caves in the Mountain Pine Ridge area where they spoke to Joshua McTaggart who claims that he was with his wife and his three children, his two sons and a seven-year-old daughter where the two sons asked permission to go and swim in another pool, separate from the one where himself and his wife and his seven-year-old daughter were swimming. He and his wife were taking pictures when their daughter disappeared. They asked for assistance from other people that were in that area swimming and about an hour later, they found the seven-year-old's body. A doctor and a nurse that were in the area also assisted by administering CPR, but the child was unresponsive. So she was transported to the San Ignacio Community Hospital where her body now awaits a post mortem."

Reporter
"We understand that these families and the victim are American nationals?"

ASP Fitzroy Yearwood, Communications Officer
"Yes, he claimed that they recently arrived in Belize on summer vacation and they decided to go to the Rio Frio Caves where this unfortunate incident occurred that took their 7-year-old daughter's life."

Family Member of Drowning Victims Expected More

So, two children lost to the Rio On pools both trapped in rock crevices.

The question now is could the authorities or the park rangers have done more to save them?

In Issac Pipersburgh's case the family says that when border patrol, who were the first responders, showed up, they didn't come with ropes or rescue material they just came armed.

Here's what Paul Pipersburgh, a cousin of Issac's, who lived through that harrowing day with his family feels was amiss with the response of the park:

Paul Pipersburgh, Issac's Cousin
"When you consider the amount of beauty and possibilities and just the opportunity for Cayo to continue to grow and develop, you know we're up there and you're not expecting things to happen, but things happen and when it does, there is nothing. You knew there is no phone service, you see a ranger station there, you reach out to the rangers - they have nothing. They can't reach the police, there is no radio, there is no nothing. They come and there is misinformation, they don't know what to do. The simple thing is at least know and be trained - there is rivers, there are pools, the one thing you should be trained in is rescue what the process is and that's the main thing. What's the process, no one knew? The only person that knew that Mr. Peter Friesen that actually came through and rescued Issac. If anything, out of this that we learned from Issac and the poor little girl who the next day lost her life is there needs to be more training, there needs to be something in place, because Belize/Cayo itself is going to continue to grow. That much is happening. We know that and with that they need to have some more resources in training on if A and B happens, what's the next step? What's the process? If you have tourism coming through this area, do we have an ambulance service, it not that, just what's the next step?"

"I don't know what else to say, because I don't want to keep going into resources being limited, because I understand that. But the miscommunication between the police come in, stay here, you can go, come back - it took an hour. It took almost an hour between going and coming back, because we are told 2 different things and ranger just didn't know what to do, she said one thing and said another thing and then we had to come back and we just ended up leaving, because we have my cousin.... - all I could say we need some form of training in indeed you're going to continue to have this developing area continue to thrive and it's not just for tourism, it's for the people of Cayo as well, because this isnt the first time it has happened, I am sure. It's the river. It's been taking lives I am sure for a long time. There is processes that can be done to at least trained the people that are involved to understand what to do next and how to handle these situations."

A release from the forestry department today laments both drownings and says there will be an internal investigation into both incidents.

It says, quote, "The department warns the public about the risks of swimming in the Mountain Pine Ridge recreational areas. Close adult supervision is strongly recommended, especially when children are using natural pool formations, as lifeguards are not stationed at these locations. The Forest Department is reviewing all visitor safety protocols to address any potential gaps. In the coming weeks, a public awareness campaign will be initiated to remind visitors of the risks associated with recreation at the sites, as well as safety measures to ensure a safe visitor experience." End quote.

Channel 7


Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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How Could Two Kids Drown? Rio On Revealed: What Lies Beneath

What would cause two visiting children to mysteriously drown in the Rio On pools on two successive days? 6-year-old Issac Pipersburgh drowned there on Saturday and not even 24 hours later, 7-year-old Cerys Mctaggart drowned as well. Both their feet had been trapped in some rock formation.

But how...?

That's the question so many have asked - when we know that thousands of Belizeans and tourists go to these pools to swim every year without incident.

Today Cherisse Halsall went looking fo answers and found that the the pools are lovely, but below the water's surface lies a mysterious water tunnel that could swallow a child hole. Here's her story:

This is the road to the Rio On pools but the sign is gone and the road closed after two children quite tragically drowned last weekend.

It's a road that the Pipersburgh family would have traveled with excitement last Saturday morning. They couldn't know then that this adventure would be their 6 year old son's last.

But faced with this breathtaking view on a sunny, perfect day who could know that there was an unknown danger lurking beneath the stream.

And it was here from the top of this rock that Issac Pipersburgh jumped to his death

Esther Pipersburgh - Issac's mother
"I saw him running, running, running. I got across I looked over at him and I said Issac wait for your dad and at that moment he, what was the word that was used? No, but what was the word that was used? A cannonball. He did a cannonball. At that moment he did a cannonball and I yelled for Mark and Mark started slowly coming up towards where Issac was and I'm looking waiting for him to come up I saw his hat come up and then that floated away and I thought you know that makes sense since there was no strap. And then I saw one of his floaties pop up and i thought it was his arm and I thought okay the rest of him will follow, nope that one floated away, and then when his second floaty came up I panicked and by that time I think Mark was already near and looking looking. So when that second floaty came up I screamed I yelled I was yelling for him, I was crying. I went completely crazy. And with me screaming everyone that was there heard it and they all came to help look for Isaac. I knew he was stuck, I knew he was in some crevice because he never came out. Someone would have seen Issac come out and he never came out."

And what Esther knew in that moment is that Issac had jumped in the worst spot imaginable. He'd jumped in a hidden 6ft sinkhole completely covered by rapids. That rushing water made it such that anyone or anything that goes down would find it almost impossible to come up.

Gerardo Garcia - Tour Guide, Blancaneux Lodge
"Here at Rio On pools this section here is one of the ones that is really dangerous, the reason why is because the hole that we have here is about 8feet to 9feet deep. So when ou are swimming or crawling through this section the current of the water is on top going through so it's going to be hard to get out. The only way you can get out is by going all the way to the bottom and pushing with your feet up , you push right up and then the current will push you out. It's just a warning that I'm telling Belizeans that come and enjoy the Rio On pools, it's a beautiful place you just have to be aware of certain areas that you can't swim."

And that's where Issac got stuck. His body wasn't recovered until Spanish lookout resident Peter Friesen

bravely, and with little regard for his own safety, dove down to the bottom of the sinkhole to retrieve him.

Peter Friesen - Recovered Issac's body
"I went there with the news that somebody was missing. I got into the water, asked people what happened nobody gave me very good information but I was searching in the water and finally I got more specific details from the mother exactly where the boy was seen last and he was standing on a rock and he jumped into that stream and disappeared into that stream which we now discovered is a hole in the stream. So they had been searching for a couple hours and nobody was finding him but when the mother explained the details. I investigated the stream and I found the hole but was not safe to get in because of the currant, so I tied a rope on myself and somebody watched over me and I got into the water and found the boy named Issac."

Friesen says he's both ready and able to help the relevant authority fill the treacherous sinkhole that took the Pipersburgh's child.

Peter Friesen
"This Rio On pool is a place I've gone for the last 40 years, it's a good place to go swim for all Belizeans and all tourists and yes, everybody have to go swim there at their own risk but I didn't know there was a dangerous spot there but I don't Rio On pool a dangerous place, just this one spot that needs to be made safe and to my knowledge it's possible just fill it up with stones and such sizes of stones that the stream will not remove the stones and the hole could be filled so that it would be safe for all Belizeans and tourists for the future."

And less than 24 hours later the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest reserve would see the drowning of yet another child -year-old Cerys Mctaggart.

For so many years the pools' unspoilt beauty was a place of unmatched wonderment, but now that unique experience is tempered by our knowledge that something so idyllic can still be fraught with mortal danger.

From the Rio On Pools in the Mountain Pine Rige Forest reserve, Cherisse Halsall 7 News.

Notable is that the warning sign at the entrance to the pool specifically indicates that there should be quote: "No running, no climbing, no jumping, and no diving." in or near the pools. The authorities may do well to move that sign much closer to the pools, since it also cautions the public to swim at their own risk and parents to supervise their children.

Channel 7


Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,051
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The loss of the lives of these precious children is so tragic.

Drowning prevention should be learned wherever you live in the world - the majority of the world is made up of water - whether fresh or salty, and with currents, rip tides, underwater obstacles and other threats please take the time to learn precautions before you enter the waters.

Did you know that a drowning person doesn't wave and shout? They can't because they are expending their energy attempting to keep their head above water.

https://www.cdc.gov/drowning/facts/index.html

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drowning

Have you heard of secondary drowning? Someone that has nearly drowned is not necessarily out of the woods if they are retrieved, secondary drowning can occur hours later. If you know of someone who has nearly drowned ensure they still seek medical care.


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