2 rescued, 1 found dead in Lake Michigan

Nothing short of 'miraculous' that two women were saved, says Naperville doctor who helped with rescue

 
By Tania Karas
Posted8/7/2010 12:01 AM
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  • The scene from this morning's rescue efforts in Lake Michigan.

    The scene from this morning's rescue efforts in Lake Michigan. ABC 7 Chicago

A Naperville doctor says it was nothing short of miraculous that he and two fellow boaters were in the right place at the right time early Friday to rescue two women from Lake Michigan.

Dr. Chad Wasson, who lives in Plainfield and practices internal medicine and endocrinology in Naperville, helped rescue the women, who, along with two men, had gone swimming early Friday without anchoring their boat.

The body of a man who jumped in the water with them was pulled from Lake Michigan Friday afternoon. He was identified as James Shepherd, 21, of 400 E. Randolph St., Chicago. Police and the U.S. Coast Guard are still searching for a second man.

The women were rescued several hundred yards away from each other. Both had been treading in 65-degree water for four or five hours before they were rescued.

Wasson and two others set out from Burnham Harbor around 6 a.m. to go fishing. But soon afterward, they saw the first woman in the water.

"We thought she was scuba diving or something. But we didn't see any boats around," Wasson said. "We got a little closer and we saw that she was obviously in distress."

They threw a life ring to the woman and pulled her close with a rope before getting her on board. Though she seemed to be in shock, she was able to tell them that three others were still in the water.

Bill Duran of Mokena, the captain and owner of the boat, began looking for the others while making a mayday call.

"About 1,000 feet away I saw something in the water and it was an arm. I just caught her out of the corner of my eye," Duran said. "Another split second and she would've gotten away. Another few minutes in the water and she would've been dead."

Both women - one 19, one in her 20s - were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, one showing signs of pneumonia. They were listed in fair condition Friday night and their identities have not been released.

According to authorities, the group set out from Burnham Harbor between 1 and 1:30 a.m. on a borrowed sailboat. All jumped in the water to go swimming but they did not anchor the boat. The women and men became separated in the dark, and the vessel drifted away.

"If you put yourself in their shoes, that's five hours of thinking you're going to die. They couldn't see each other for five hours. They didn't know if their friends were dead," Wasson said.

"It's pretty miraculous if you think about it. To be able to find one is amazing. To find two of them is just miraculous."

Chicago Police Marine Unit Sgt. Jim van Vranken told WBBM 780-AM that even his specially trained Marine Unit officers would have a hard time surviving that long in 65-degree waters.

"Her will to survive outweighed Mother Nature," van Vranken told the station.

Wasson pointed out several coincidental events that enabled them to find the women. He and Duran had been trying to go fishing together for a month, though family obligations and unpredictable weather canceled plans until Friday. Wasson's wife had originally planned to come but backed out at the last minute, which delayed their departure from the harbor.

"The speed at which those girls were drifting, if we had gotten there three minutes earlier or three minutes later, we wouldn't have seen them," Wasson said. "Everything came down to this one specific time."