Person missing after raft tips over in Lake Michigan
--Post-Tribune and Sun-Times Media Wire June 19, 2012 10:22AM
(BEVERLY SHORES, Ind.) Divers, boats and a helicopter will search overnight for a New York man who disappeared Monday afternoon into the waters of Lake Michigan near Beverly Shores, Ind.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Gene Davis said around 3 p.m., 31-year-old Leonel Dominguez of the Bronx and his friend Evelyn Hernandez paddled an inflatable boat raft out into Lake Michigan east of Lake View Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The pair was visiting Hernandez’s sister who lives in Beverly Shores. When they were at least 100 feet from shore, Hernandez told Dominguez that she wanted to go back to the beach, so he jumped into the water and attempted to tow the boat back to shore by swimming. Earlier in the day, the pair had ventured out into the lake and Dominguez had swam the boat back into shore without incident.
The winds were gusting around 35 mph, and Dominguez wasn’t making much headway and getting tired. He tried to get back into the raft, but the wind caused it to flip and eject Hernandez. The raft quickly floated away, so the pair had to swim back to the beach.
Hernandez was starting to give up hope, so she started screaming for help.
Lockport, Ill., resident Nick Dominguez, who is not related to Leonel, heard her cries and dove into to the lake to save her. He reached her and put her on a sandbar where she could stand. Dominguez went back to look for Leonel Dominguez, but he was nowhere to be found.
Davis said that Hernandez told emergency responders that she “never would have made it” without the efforts of Nick Dominguez, who is a U.S. Marine.
A construction worker at a nearby house witnessed the scene and called 911.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat found the inflatable boat raft floating in water about 21 feet deep a few hours after the incident.
Davis said that high winds made conditions particularly dangerous for swimmers and boaters on Monday.
“Lake Michigan is different than any other lake,” Davis said. “Particularly on the southern end, it warms up and makes conditions ideal for visitors, but it’s the most affected area by wind and waves.”
Besides park police and DNR, emergency personnel from Portage, Washington Township, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores, Burns Harbor, Porter and the U.S. Coast Guard helped with the search.
The Coast Guard search will continue by air and water through the night, according to Coast Guard Lake Michigan Commanding Duty Officer Charles Wolfson. Other groups involved will resume their search “at first light,” Wolfson said.
The Coast Guard continues to conduct a search and rescue, though other emergency personnel are doing both search and rescue and recovery.