Lake Michigan

Water safety in sharp focus after multiple Lake Michigan drownings in recent days

At least three people are believed to have died in tragedies on Lake Michigan in recent days

A series of tragedies on Lake Michigan this week, with multiple victims drowning and experts offering tips to stay safe as hot weather sends people toward the water.

One of the tragedies occurred near Montrose Beach when a 16-year-old boy died after the raft he was riding on capsized, leading to a dramatic rescue of a 16-year-old girl that was with him.

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

In another incident, a 12-foot sailboat capsized a few miles off shore in suburban Winnetka. Authorities say a woman, who was wearing a life vest, was able to swim to Tower Road Beach, where she called for help at approximately 2 a.m. Monday.

She told authorities that a 50-year-old woman was still missing, and the U.S. Coast Guard found her approximately a mile offshore. She was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Chicago Fire officials.

A third incident occurred Saturday when a 58-year-old man fell off a boat in Chicago’s “playpen.” He remains missing after several days of searching, according to authorities.

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

She was resuscitated and taken to an area hospital in fair condition, while the man was treated and released at the scene.

According to Dave Benjamin, cofounder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, these incidents 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,” he said.

Temperatures in the Chicago area will exceed 90 degrees for most of the week, with heat indices approaching 100 degrees at times.

Residents seek out relief on the water, but Benjamin warns that most fatalities involve victims not wearing lifejackets, and that approximately 50% of boating fatalities are alcohol-related. He advises 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,” he 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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