PORTAGE, Ind. (CBS) — There were calls Thursday to prevent more drownings on Lake Michigan, after two people died last weekend and three barely survived.
CBS 2’s Marissa Parra found a man who rescued some swimmers with his jet ski.
It was an emotional rescue on Lake Michigan Sunday as Jeremiah Schwanke hopped off that personal watercraft to pull young lives ashore. The rescue was caught on camera.
“I looked at the lady and said, ‘Thank God he’s OK,’ and she said, ‘No, there’s two more people out there,’” Schwanke said.
Five teens were in need of rescue along the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk in Indiana that afternoon. Strong rip currents, high waves, and rocks and debris made even the rescue dangerous.
Schwanke’s watercraft was destroyed, and first responders told him to pull back.
“He told me to let go of the kid and go to shore, and I did not do that,” Schwanke said.
Of those five teens, one, a 16-year-old from Illinois, was found dead the next day. Another teen remained in critical condition as of Thursday.
The other three were doing OK Thursday, thanks in part to people like Schwanke who jumped in.
“What we are seeing more of this year is bystanders performing rescues and bystanders performing CPR,” said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
And the Coast Guard said closed beaches from the pandemic have not made much of a dent in incidents this year.
“Initially, we were less cases,” said Lake Michigan Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer Phillip Gurtler. “However, that has ended. We’re as busy now as we usually are during this time.”
Benjamin said so far this year, Lake Michigan has seen 34 drowning incidents, which is on pace with previous years. There were 48 in 2019, 43 in 2018, 40 in 2017, and 46 in 2016.
This year, several of the rescues, both in Illinois and Indiana, have been just within the last few weeks.
The Portage Riverwalk is open to the public, but Sunday’s conditions made it what Benjamin called a death trap. He said it could have been avoided.
“I think that if Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk had lifeguards, this drowning incident would have never happened,” he said. “These five teens would have never gotten in trouble.”
Schwanke said he is advocating to get life vests and rescue rings along the riverwalk.
We reached out to the Portage Mayor’s office, but had not heard back late Thursday.
You can always find current swimming advisories online for Lake Michigan, posted by the National Weather Service.