SAITAMA – Leisure facilities across the nation conducted emergency inspections Tuesday, a day after a 7-year-old girl drowned after being sucked into an intake pipe whose protective grille had come off in a popular municipal pool in Fujimino, Saitama Prefecture.
The circular pool, which has a streaming current that pulls swimmers around in a loop, is nominally operated by Taiyo Kanzai, a company based in the city of Saitama under a contract with the Fujimino Municipal Government.
Employees at Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and Tokyo Summerland in Akiruno said they were flooded with calls about the safety of their pools. Both said they conducted full-scale inspections, including the intake pipes and grilles.
Toshio Saito, president of Taiyo Kanzai, apologized at a news conference in Saitama.
“We feel really sorry. We will fully cooperate with the police investigation to find out what exactly happened,” he said.
Saito said his firm subcontracted operation of the pool to another company and that he is now asking that firm how the pool was managed.
A Fujimino municipal official said the city did not now about that arrangement until Tuesday and will consider terminating its contract with Taiyo Kanzai.
According to police, Erika Tomaru was sucked into an intake pipe at the pool 10 minutes after another child had reported that one of two aluminum grilles on the mouth of the pipe had fallen off, police said.
“Erika was a kid who had a beautiful smile,” said Eiko Yanagisawa, one of her teachers at Kotesashi Elementary School in Tokorozawa. “I was looking forward to seeing her back at school in September.”
Tomaru was sucked in head-first at around 1:40 p.m. Monday, about 10 minutes after an elementary school student brought the detached 60-sq.-cm grille section to a lifeguard, police said.
After receiving the lid, the lifeguard placed it beside a lifeguard tower and contacted a senior lifeguard by radio, police said. Another lifeguard then came and told swimmers to stay away from the intake pipe, they said.
A lifeguard who saw Tomaru being sucked into the pipe said he tried to warn her but she was underwater.
“The girl was under the water so she probably couldn’t hear calls not to go near” the pipe, he reportedly told police.
Police suspect the girl was trying to approach a nearby friend.
Saitama Prefectural Police are investigating the accident as a case of professional negligence resulting in death, on the part of the city and the company commissioned to oversee the facility.
Police have been asking the lifeguards and other personnel what they were doing during the crucial 10 minutes after the grille was taken from the pool. According to police, the lifeguards said they warned the swimmers but did not try to get them out of the pool.