LAKE MICHIGAN — Officials reported 13 drownings in Lake Michigan so far this year, compared to the eight drownings recorded by early July last year.

Currently, Lake Michigan has the highest total number of drownings compared to the other four Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Lake Erie has six drownings so far this year; Lake Superior has two; and Lake Ontario has one, the report stated. Lake Huron has had no drownings yet this year.

Reports show 2018 held the highest recorded number of drownings among all of the Great Lakes with 117 total deaths, according to the GLSRP.

Some of the victims were children who became submerged, and others were kayakers who set off shore and never returned, said Dave Benjamin, executive director of GLSRP.

Among the drownings, two of them happened in Northwest Indiana, including Scott Tharp, 59, of Gary, who was reported missing Feb. 11 and whose body was later found May 31 by a fisherman near Portage Lakefront Park.

On May 29, the body of 23-year-old Jacob Sandy was discovered by an Indiana Dunes National Park employee a small distance east of Porter Beach. Sandy was last seen May 18 kayaking off Porter Beach.

Benjamin said 66% of drowning victims are strong swimmers and 80% of drowning victims are men.

He said educating people to recognize when they see someone drowning and training the public on survival strategies in the water are key to lowering the number of Lake Michigan fatalities.

Simple instructive tools like “flip, float and follow,” can save lives, he said. The strategy includes a drowning person to flip onto his or her back and float, keeping the head above water, according to the GLSRP. The person then should follow the safest path out of the water.

“Everyone knows stop, drop and roll,” Benjamin said. “But we never play in fire. Many people play in water, and they don't know drowning survival tactics. That should show some alarm bells. We need to treat this as a public health issue.”
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