Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan waters see multiple drownings, water-related incidents in recent days

The incidents, which take place across the suburbs and the city, involved swimmers, boaters and teens on a raft

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At least two people died and one remains missing in separate water-related or drowning incidents in Lake Michigan waters in and around the Chicago area in recent days.

The first occurred early Monday morning when a 12-foot sailboat launched in Evanston capsized near a beach in suburban Winnetka. According to officials, one of the boaters, a woman, was was able to swim two miles to Tower Road Beach where she alerted authorities that the other boater, a 50-year-old woman, was missing.

Following a search and rescue mission, authorities pulled a second victim from the water and transported her to Chicago's Montrose Harbor per the Coast Guard, officials said.

Upon arrival at the harbor, the victim was pronounced dead.

According to officials, both boaters were wearing life vests.

The second incident took place Monday afternoon near Montrose Beach in Chicago when a 16-year-old teenage boy died after the raft he was riding on capsized, leading to a dramatic rescue of a 16-year-old teenage girl that was with him.

According to police, the female was pulled onto shore by a witness.

“I heard somebody yelling help,” said a witness. “It’s traumatizing to see this and to see that happen is going to stick with me for quite some time.”

The male was pulled out of the lake by Chicago Fire Department divers who were dropped by helicopter, authorities said.

The teenage boy was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition, CFD said. He was later pronounced dead.

Later Monday, another incident occurred at Montrose Beach when man and woman went into the water in a no-swimming area, officials said. A woman was pulled from the water, with a Good Samaritan performing CPR until authorities arrived.

The woman was resuscitated and taken to a nearby hospital in fair condition, officials said. The man was treated and released at the scene, officials added.

Over the weekend, a 58-year-old man fell off a boat in Chicago’s “playpen.” He remains missing after several days of searching, according to authorities.

Dave Benjamin, cofounder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, told NBC Chicago incidents like these become more common as the weather gets warmer.

“If it’s warm and it’s windy and there are waves on a weekend, we’re going to have a higher increase in drowning incidents,” Benjamin said.

According to the NBC 5 Storm Team, temperatures in the Chicago area will exceed 90 degrees for most of the week, with heat indices approaching 100 degrees at times.

According to Benjamin, most fatalities involve victims not wearing lifejackets, and approximately 50% of boating fatalities are alcohol-related. He advised residents to be sure to wear proper lifejackets and to abstain from drinking when out on the water.

“Imagine trying to put your seatbelt on during a car crash,” he said. “It’s the same thing if you’re trying to put on a life jacket during boating incident or water emergency, it’s going to be very difficult.”

He also urges residents to be careful when they witness a water emergency.

“Most people assume that knowing how to swim is water safety,” he said. “Water safety is knowing a survival strategy.”

That strategy involves using the best possible methods to save someone, and that doesn’t always involve diving into the water.  

“If someone is struggling in water over their head, what we recommend is flip, float, follow,” Benjamin said. “If you see someone struggling in the water, call 911, alert a lifeguard, reach something to that person or throw something that floats. It’s dangerous to enter water to rescue someone.”

He even says that the fact water is colder than air can play a role in turning a scary situation into a tragedy.

“Generally if someone is wearing life jacket and it turns into fatal drowning incident its generally associated with cold water, it can cause hypothermia,” he said. “Even though it’s warmer air temps we have cold water temps so hypothermia can be a contributing factor.”

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