The Perspective

Silent Submersion

Cierra Sonetti speaks at a press conference
with son Austin by her side. (2010)

When you hear laughter and splashing around the family pool on a hot day, it’s hard to imagine the fun ending in silent tragedy. Sadly young children can become submerged in a body of water without flailing or making noise, many times going unnoticed until it is too late. Deemed the silent killer, drowning, or submersion death, is the number one killer of children younger than 4 years old.

It only takes a few seconds for a child to become submerged, only a few minutes without air to lose consciousness and a few minutes longer for irreversible brain damage to occur – many times resulting in death. The real tragedy, these submersions are usually preventable.

Two local families have endured the pain of having a child involved in a submersion incident, and both have appeared publicly to try to help educate other parents and caregivers about the dangers of drowning.

Eight years ago, young mother Cierra Sonetti’s tragedy didn’t end in death. Her 18-month old son Austin silently slipped under the pool cover during a family gathering and went unnoticed. Submerged for nearly 40 minutes, Austin survived but suffered permanent brain damage. Unable to feed himself, talk, walk or play, he now requires 24-hour care and continues to suffer from seizures.

For several years, Cierra has spoken out about drowning prevention at community events, sometimes bringing Austin with her. She continues to urge parents to always follow safety precautions to prevent the pain and suffering her family has endured following Austin’s submersion. Admittedly, there was a pool fence installed at the time of Austin’s accident, but it was not set up because it was an “eye sore.”

After losing a young child in a submersion incident, Joe and Lonnie Noble graciously shared their personal tragedy in an effort to reduce the incidence of drowning in the community.

The Nobles first donated their time in 2001 to appear in a public service announcement (PSA), and attended several press conferences to tell their story and support the drowning prevention effort. Later, in 2005 when the PSA needed to be updated, they agreed to participate once again.

In 2006, the Nobles were named Public Health Heroes for their work with the health district.


The PSA featuring the Nobles outlined the A B C & D’s of drowning prevention:

  • A = adult supervision (constant adult supervision)
  • B = barriers (fences, alarms)
  • C = classes (swimming lessons, CPR)
  • D = devices (life jacket, personal flotation device)

These four simple steps provide parents and caregivers the tools to ensure a safe environment for young children who are exposed to open water sources. While drowning typically occurs in a residential pool, young children are also susceptible to becoming submerged in any body of water, including wading pools, toilets and bathtubs.

Since 1999, more than half of the submersion incidents in Nevada occurred in residential pools, and most tragically, three quarters of the deaths involved children 4 years old or younger. Thankfully, our community has these two families who have found the strength to open up and speak publicly about their tragedies to help prevent others.


The Southern Nevada Health District partners with jurisdictions and community organizations to educate the public about drowning prevention. To learn more visit the Drowning Prevention webpage on Educational videos are available in the Summer Safety playlist on our YouTube channel. For a list of drowning prevention and pool safety resources, visit the Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition Resources webpage.

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