UofT student who died was found under floating dock at camp: classmate

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An 18-year old University of Toronto student who died during a trip to the school’s engineering camp this week was found under a floating dock not long after he and his classmates jumped into a lake on a hot afternoon, said a young man who pulled his colleague from the water.

Second-year civil engineering student Anand Baiju, who according to his family didn’t know how to swim, died in an apparent drowning while at the facility on Gull Lake near Minden, Ont., on Tuesday.

His classmate, Sina Lakbala, said he met Baiju on the bus ride to the camp earlier that day and had spent the drive discussing the new school year and a campus engineering club Baiju had joined.

“He was really passionate about this club and engineering,” said Lakbala. “He was a really fun guy.”

There was no air conditioning on the bus over the course of the drive so when the class arrived at the camp, a group of students immediately decided to cool off in the lake, Lakbala said, noting that he and Baiju were among them.

About 20 minutes later, while in the water, Lakbala said he noticed some students frantically searching the water around a floating dock some distance from the shore.

Lakbala said he swam over and learned Baiju may have gone under, so he began diving under the surface to see if he could find his classmate.

“I was under the water trying to feel around, and then I felt something — like a hand,” he said. “I tried to grab his hand, and then I pulled him out of the water and started pulling him to the beach.”

Others then helped Lakbala get Baiju, who was unconscious, to the shore, he said. Students then began performing CPR on the young man while a professor called 911.

“I just sat on the beach in shock,” Lakbala said. “I couldn’t feel my legs. I was shaking. I couldn’t move my body.”

Police have said Baiju was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to hospital.

The university said students on the trip returned home Tuesday night and activities at the camp, which is used to provide training in land surveying and project management, were cancelled for the week.

The young man’s family said it was devastated by Baiju’s death and wanted the university to take steps to prevent a similar incident the future.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other kid,” Baiju’s uncle, Manoj Gopinath, said. “I don’t want any family to have to go through this.”

Gopinath added that the family was “upset” the university did not immediately reach out to Baiju’s relatives after the incident and that a representative from the institution was not present at the hospital.

Elizabeth Church, a spokeswoman for the university, said the school has apologized to the family for not being at the hospital, and said the engineering faculty has been in touch with Baiju’s relatives to plan a memorial for the young man.

“We’re going to learn from this,” said Church. “It’s a heartbreaking situation. So we are still gathering information to find out what happened and that’s going to take some time.”

Church said there were 50 students on the excursion to the camp. A class instructor, a teaching assistant and camp staff were also present at the facility.

Swimming is not part of the course curriculum at the camp, Church said.

Baiju had been working two-part time jobs — at McDonald’s and as a security guard — to support his parents and 12-year-old sister and get himself through school, his uncle said. Baiju also liked to paint with watercolours in his spare time, Gopinath said.

“He’s very hard working, with a lot of ambition,” Gopinath said. “He was a good person.”

Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press