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Cooper Onyett dies at school camp in Victoria: New details emerge


The primary school knew the eight-year-old student was a poor swimmer but did not inform the aquatics center before the boy drowned at the camp.

Year two student Cooper Onyett drowned on May 21, 2021 at Belfast Aquatics in Port Fairy, south-west Victoria, while on a field trip organized by Merrivale Primary School in Warrnambool.

Before the trip, the school sent parents permission slips and medical forms asking how far their children could swim.

Cooper’s mother ticked the box confirming he was a novice swimmer with little or no experience in shallow water, prosecutor Duncan Chisholm told the Victoria District Court in Warrnambool on Thursday.

However, the school never shared information about students’ swimming abilities in the pool before sending 28 young students there.

Year two student Cooper Onyett drowned on May 21, 2021 at Belfast Aquatics in Port Fairy in south-west Victoria during a school trip

Cooper (pictured) was identified by his mother as a weak swimmer but was spotted twice outside the shallow area of ​​the center

Cooper (pictured) was identified by his mother as a weak swimmer but was spotted twice outside the shallow area of ​​the center

Second-graders were asked to raise their hands if they could swim when they got to the aquatic center, Chisholm said.

Children who said they could swim were led to an inflatable obstacle course in the deep end of the pool, but many were eventually identified as weak swimmers and helped to the shallow end, he said.

Cooper was among the children identified as a weak swimmer and was spotted two more times outside the shallows – jumping into the deep end and onto an inflatable boat from which he was told to get off.

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A swimmer who was with her daughter later saw the boy swimming underwater and initially thought he was holding his breath.

«After about 40 seconds, she realized something was wrong,» Chisholm said.

Cooper died after attempts to resuscitate him in the pool failed.

The Victorian education department pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation in relation to Cooper’s death, admitting it failed to ensure that people other than staff were not exposed to risks.

«If information about children’s swimming abilities were shared with Belfast, it could help the risk of drowning,» Chisholm said.

During Thursday’s plea hearing, Judge Claire Quin repeatedly asked government attorney Carmen Currie why the school collected information about children’s swimming abilities when it did not share it with the pool.

Currie said the information was collected for planning purposes and the department could not «anticipate in each individual case the exact information a provider might need» for a school activity.

It was up to the pool to ask for information, the attorney said.

«The activity was swimming,» Judge Quin said.

«Why get information if you don’t want to give it to the people who need it?»

Chisholm said the department was relying on someone else to fulfill its own obligation when it placed the responsibility on the aquatic center to ask about students’ swimming abilities.

«When they drop kids off, they don’t just throw them off the bus and say, ‘You’re going to be right,'» he said.

Currie said the department has since introduced a requirement for schools to inform pools of their students’ swimming abilities.

Victoria's education department pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation over Cooper's death

Victoria’s education department pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation over Cooper’s death

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But she said there was no evidence that the revelation of the children’s swimming abilities had changed the way Belfast Aquatics managed the May 21 activity.

Port Fairy Community Pool Management has also admitted breaching health and safety legislation.’

Judge Quin is expected to sentence both the department and the pool management on May 31.



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