Swimmer dies in Cebu open water swimming event

Mars G. Alison
Swimmer dies in Cebu open water swimming event
Eduardo Oriondo, a Philippine Air Force Master Sergeant, was found submerged in 40 foot deep water at the Olango Challenge, which some participants say lacked sufficient marshals to supervise

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Olango Challenge open water swimming competition in Cebu was marred by the death of a participant.

Eduardo Oriondo, whom organizers said was 54 years old and was competing in the 2-kilometer Competitive Male category, was found submerged about 40 feet deep along the race course set at the waters fronting the Pacific Cebu Resort in Suba Basbas Lapu-Lapu City at a little past 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 23.

According to his Facebook account, he had just turned 53 on May 15. He hailed from barangay Sangi in Lapu-Lapu City and was a Master Sergeant in the Philippine Air Force. He is survived by his wife and a daughter said to be a Grade one pupil.

It was the first time that the race course of the Olango Challenge was set at the waters fronting the Pacific Cebu Resort. In past years, it had been held at different beach resorts in Lapu-Lapu City – the now-closed Tambuli Beach Resort and the Crimson Resort and Spa Mactan.

The Olango Challenge is organized by the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) Visayas Chapter in partnership with the Philippine Swimming Inc. (PSI) to raise funds to build classrooms in Olango, an island off Mactan, and ironically to raise awareness for drowning incidents in the country.

The event’s categories are 6-K Fun Mixed Class, 6-K Competitive Female, 6-K Competitive Male, 2-K Fun Mixed Class, 2-K Competitive Female and 2-K Competitive Male.

Cause of death not yet known

It could not be determined yet what caused Oriondo to drown as his body has yet to be submitted for autopsy. He is not a first timer in the event, having joined the same race last year. Friends also described him as an accomplished triathlete who finished last year’s Cobra Energy Drink IronMan 70.3 which was also held in Lapu-Lapu, although in a different beach resort.

A master sergeant in the Philippine Air Force, Oriondo is survived by his wife and a daughter said to be a Grade one pupil. Photo by Mars Alison

Oriondo was set to compete in next month’s Tabuelan 111 Triathlon and also in this year’s Cobra IronMan 70.3.

Oriondo was found underwater by PBSP Visayas chapter executive committee chairman Jose Antonio Aboitiz, who was on his second loop of the 2-kilometer race course. He was competing in the 6-K Fun Mixed Class.

“He (Oriondo) was under the water when I found him. I was swimming on the outer part of the course when I saw somebody underneath and wasn’t floating,” said Aboitiz, who agreed to be interviewed about the incident right after the awarding ceremony.

Aboitiz, who was visibly shaken while paramedics were trying to revive Oriondo on the beach, said that he immediately shouted to a lifeguard that there was someone underwater before he dived in an attempted to retrieve the body.

Having no scuba gear and Oriondo having already sunk deep, Aboitiz was not able to hold his breath and came up. By that time the lifeguards were already joined by members of the Naval Forces Central (Navforcen) whom the lifeguards said had to go back to shore for diving equipment. This was, however, denied by the Navforcen saying that they had the diving equipment onboard their motorboat.

Without thinking of the risk to himself and knowing that time was of the essence in getting Oriondo’s body to the surface, Aboitiz dove again and this time successfully brought up Oriondo, who was immediately loaded on the Navforcen’s motorboat.

Petty Officer 2 (PO2) Peter S. Junillo recounted that he lost no time in trying to revive Oriondo by immediately administering Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. He said that he had felt a slight pulse and saw movement in Oriondo’s eyes, and had believed that the victim would survive.

Navy Fire Controlman 1 (FN1) Elisto C. Lardin said that Oriondo was unconscious and foaming in the mouth as soon as he was brought up.

Junillo said he did not stop pumping Oriondo’s chest until they got to land, which was about 150 meters away. Upon reaching the beach, the Navforcen immediately turned Oriondo over to the waiting medical practitioners, who continued to try to revive Oriondo. Some of the doctor participants who have finished their race also lend a hand.

Failing to establish a pulse after a few minutes, the paramedics of the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF) transported Oriondo to the nearby Mactan Doctors Hospital where he was declared dead a little past 1 p.m.

A PBSP staff member had gone with Oriondo to the hospital while other staff immediately tried to locate his family. The victim was apparently by himself during the race.

Not enough marshals

Some of the participants had lamented that last Saturday’s edition of the event lacked marshals on the race course and that some of the lifeguards who were regulars in manning the race course were no longer hired to do so.

However, Navforcen’s Lardin said that the organizers had done everything they could to make the race safe by stationing a marshal every 50 meters of the race course. Each turning point of the race course also had marshals. Aside from the stationary marshals, there were also marshals roaming around on jetskis.

Lardin also added that the water was very calm and that he suspects that Oriondo did not just drown but he might have been having cramps or perhaps had a heart attack.

There were also members of the Stand Up Paddle littered along the race course. One member admitted that unlike in previous events, only a few of them were hired for this year’s edition of the open water competition.

Some participants also said that the current was not much of a problem but insisted that the turning points were situated far apart from each other and that there were not that many marshals in between.

During the awarding ceremony, Aboitiz announced Oriondo’s death and asked everyone to join him in a moment of silence in honor of Oriondo.

In an official statement later released, the PBSP stated that it has deeply mourned the accidental death of Oriondo.

They also assured that they are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of the participants.

Aboitiz said they are still trying to make sense of what happened and why it happened. He is unsure yet of how the incident will impact the open water competition especially that it is a fund-raising activity to build disaster-resilient classrooms.

The PBSP have already provided assistance for Oriondo’s family and is studying other support that it can further give them. – Rappler.com

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