A man and a woman, both in their twenties, drowned in Lake Superior Saturday, as bystanders tried — and failed — to save the victims caught up in strong currents, WLUC-TV (Marquette, Michigan) is reporting.
Police say that at about 3:10 p.m. Saturday, as tourists and area residents alike were enjoying the beaches of Little Presque Isle.
Two 22-year-old women both entered the water with the intention of swimming to a nearby rock. One of the women made it safely, but the other began struggling in the strong current and large waves. Her companion jumped back into the water to try to help her, but both got swept out into deeper water by the currents.
A 24-year-old man then entered the water to try to help the women; he, too, was swept out into deeper water.
Finally, bystanders were on the shore were able to find life jackets and entered the water to try to rescue the victims. However, only one of the victims, one of the women, was able to make it to safety. The other woman, and the young man, both drowned.
BREAKING: search and rescue underway for missing man and woman off Little Presque Isle pic.twitter.com/FelU8s4m12
— TV6 & FOX UP (@wluctv6) June 11, 2016
Within minutes, a search operation involving local police and the U.S. Coast Guard was under way. At 5:54 p.m. the woman’s body was recovered — the man’s body was recovered at about 10:00 p.m.
Little Presque Isle, where the drownings occurred, is a 430-acre natural area in a remote part of northern Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“The Little Presque Isle tract is often called the crown jewel of Lake Superior, with its beautiful sand beaches, rugged shoreline cliffs, heavily timbered forests, and unmatched public views.
The… area occurs north and south of Little Presque Point, around the mouth of Harlow Creek. The area is a combination of a wooded dune and swale community and bedrock lakeshore and cliff. The wooded dunes and swales formed as post-glacial lake levels receded, depositing a series of low sandy beach ridges.”
Despite the appearance of tranquil waters in photographs of Great Lakes Beaches, the Great Lakes can be deadly. Since 2010, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, 448 people had drowned in the Great Lakes since 2010 as of May 9 (that figure is now up to 450 due to the weekend Lake Superior drownings). Already in 2016, 14 people have drowned in the Great Lakes; this weekend’s Little Presque Isle drownings are the only drownings, so far, in Lake Superior. Six people have drowned this year in Lake Michigan, two in Lake Huron, two in Lake Erie, and two in Lake Ontario.
According to Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, the Great Lakes can be dangerous because swimmers underestimate the effects of winds, currents, and waves on the surf. Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, warns that swimmers should know their limits before attempting to get too deep into the waters of any of the Great Lakes.
“The Great Lakes are beautiful, but they can be very dangerous, especially to swimmers. Winds cause waves, waves cause dangerous currents, and the strength of those currents increase with the size of the waves.”
In fact, the most dangerous of the Great Lakes is Lake Michigan. According to Wide Open Spaces, more people die each year, on average, in Lake Michigan than the other four Great Lakes combined. Bob Dukesherer, a senior forecaster and marine program leader for the weather service office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says that the geography of the lake and the natural process that affect it make it dangerous for swimmers.
“There are layers upon layers of threats that could pose problems for swimmers … Its physical makeup helps create large waves, especially when winds blow from the north and west.”
As of this writing, the names of the Lake Superior drowning victims have not been released.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]