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Police: Body found in Lake Michigan is woman lost when boat sank May 31

At 31st Street Harbor Sunday morning rescue crews are has search is underway for other passengers who may have been

At 31st Street Harbor on Sunday morning, rescue crews are on hand as a search is underway for other passengers who may have been on a boat capsized hours earlier. | Alex Wroblewski/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 1, 2014 6:23AM

The body of a woman who has been missing in Lake Michigan since a boat accident late last month was found Saturday night by Police Marine Unit officers in the water about 5 miles east of Navy Pier, according to a police source.

The woman, who was in her 20s, was one of four people aboard a 33-foot cabin cruiser that sank several miles off the coast of Chicago the night of May 31.

She was not wearing a life preserver when police found her body Saturday. The cause of death was drowning, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

A 29-year-old man who was found wrapped in life preservers about 12 hours after the boat sank was the only survivor of the accident. Shortly after he was pulled from the water, the body of 26-year-old Chicago attorney Ashley Haws, who was also wearing a life preserver, was found floating in the lake. An autopsy attributed her death to hypothermia.

Police Marine Unit boats have been searching the lake daily for the woman’s body, as well as the body of the boat’s owner, Orest Sopka, a 30-year-old Chicago trader. He is the only person from the boat who remains missing.

It’s not clear what went horribly wrong when the boat sank last month — but as the boat began taking on water, its four occupants began scrambling to bail it out, according to a source with knowledge of the account the survivor gave to authorities.

The boat’s ship-to-shore radio was not working, and there were no cellphone signals to call for help — the boat was too far from shore.

Flares were fired into the air, but no one saw them.

The engine began to smoke and caught fire, power was lost and the bilge pump failed, according to police. An alarm panel sounded and the engine shut down, according to Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Brian Dykens.

The lone survivor told authorities he distributed life preservers before the boat went down. Everyone on the boat could swim.

Early the next morning, after he had been floating in Lake Michigan for about 12 hours, a fisherman spotted the man who survived.

He was wrapped in five life preservers and had a floating boat bumper tucked under his legs, allowing part of this body to remain above the waterline. He was suffering from hypothermia and, according to the fisherman, was “totally delirious.”

Authorities estimate the boat was several miles offshore when it sank.

The man who survived had more body fat than the other three boaters, a factor that helped him survive in water temperatures colder than 60 degrees, the source said.

The man has since recovered enough to leave the hospital. Parts of his story have changed several times, but hypothermia likely muddled his memories and left the him in a confused state, the source said.

“It seems like he’s not really clear on what happened,” the source said, adding that foul play is not suspected.

Searchers found some debris — seats from the boat, at least one used flare and multiple life preservers — but are unsure where exactly the boat sank.

Police plan to continue their daily search for the fourth body and sunken boat.

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