Friday, February 3

Lake Michigan drownings in 2022 outpacing prior years


GRAND HAVEN, MI – The three people in their early 20s who drowned earlier this week in Lake Michigan are the latest fatalities in a growing list of drowning deaths this year that is outpacing prior years.

So far this year, Lake Michigan has seen at least 33 people drown in its waters. About 10 of those drownings happened along the coastline in Michigan, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking Great Lakes drowning statistics and advocating for water safety in the lakes.

In the latest incidents, a 21-year-old Wyoming, Michigan man drowned Sunday afternoon in Lake Michigan at Grand Haven State Park after being swept away from shore, past the swim buoys.

A day later, a 22-year-old Novi man and a 21-year-old Columbus, Michigan woman were found unresponsive in the lake in South Haven. Bystanders pulled them from the waters and attempted to resuscitate them, but they were later pronounced dead.

According to data kept by the Surf Rescue Project, 33 drowning Lake Michigan deaths by Aug. 9 is the highest in any year since 2013.

Related: The Deadliest Great Lake: An MLive documentary video

About 27 people had drowned in the lake at this time of the year in 2021. That’s down from 30 drownings this same time in 2020 and 32 in 2019.

David Benjamin, executive director of public relations and project management for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said he believes drownings in the lake have always happened at this high of a rate.

What accounts for the seeming increase, he said, is that the project has gotten better at tracking the incidents and recording them, thanks to technology as well as a growing number of professionals and others that report drownings to the project.

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Benjamin said many of the drownings, including the latest three in Michigan, could’ve been prevented if city and state beach parks employed lifeguards.

“It’s been horrendous,” he said of the drownings this year. “The last three drownings were all preventable if we had lifeguards.”

The lifeguards could also provide real-time flag changes warning swimmers of lake conditions. Too often, Benjamin said, the flags – which span from low hazard green to medium hazard yellow to hazardous red – don’t reflect the actual conditions of the waters and aren’t taken seriously.

For example, he said, sometimes a flag is set to red even though conditions are calm currently but, in several hours time, are projected to be turbulent with high waves. It’s akin to crying wolf, he said, and undermines the warning system.

Benjamin did applaud the implementation of a double red flag at Grand Haven State Park. When the two red flags are flying, it signals that the swimming area is closed due to hazardous conditions.

Related: Why most Lake Michigan beaches don’t have lifeguards despite repeated drownings

In addition to the latest three drownings, here are the seven others that occurred this year along the Michigan shoreline:

* May 15 — Two teenage brothers from Indiana drowned in the lake at Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer.

* July 13 — Two people — a 7-year-old Texas boy and a 33-year-old Beaver Creek, Ohio man — drowned in the lake in South Haven.

* July 13 — A 16-year-old male drowned in the lake at North Beach Park in Ferrysburg.

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* July 19 — A 78-year-old Illinois woman fell into the lake at Oval Beach in Saugatuck after having a medical emergency. Although bystanders pulled her from the lake and started CPR, she later died.

* July 24 — A 19-year-old man drowned after he was overcome by high waves and strong currents while swimming with friends at Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon.

Read more from MLive:

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Book banning or protecting children? LGBTQ books at West Michigan library draw differing views

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