Who is most likely to drown in Lake Michigan?

6:11 AM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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HOLLAND, Mich. (WZZM) -- Every year they get lost in a new wave of statistics, swimmers in Lake Michigan who never come back. 13 On Your Side is putting a face to the numbers and finding out who is at risk of becoming the next drowning victim, where it's most likely to happen, and when.

It's 86 degrees on a Sunday afternoon, with cool water and playful waves at Holland State Park. For many beachgoers, it's hard to resist the water but easy to lose track of time. However, there's at least one reason swimmers should never forget Sunday: Statistically, it's the most likely day of the week people drown in Lake Michigan.

"I do all the crazy stuff, like jumping off the pier," says Chevy Gilliam, 19.

As a 19-year-old man, Gilliam fits the profile of someone most likely to drown, according to recent statistics.

"Sounds accurate," says Gilliam, as he laughed.

However, the numbers are no joke. Between 2010 and 2012, 38 people drowned in Lake Michigan on a Sunday. There were 107 men who drown in lake Michigan compared to 23 women, that's roughly five men for every woman. 19-year-olds like Gilliam were at the top of the list.

WZZM 13 asked him if he thinks he should respect the water more.

"Probably, it's obviously a very powerful force," says Gilliam.

Bob Pratt is a water safety instructor for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, the non-profit group that compiled the numbers.
He says men have one big disadvantage: Their confidence.

"They overestimate their swimming ability by almost 100%, so if they think they can swim from one buoy to another and that would be their limit, they can probably only swim half that far," says Pratt.

"I don't think, 'oh I'm going to drown when I go out,' maybe I should," says Gilliam.

Pratt teaches lifeguards to identify a potential drowning victim, he demonstrated to WZZM 13 it is nothing like the overdramatized scenes on television. Instead, he says a real drowning is much more subtle.

"If you see someone in the water that's waving and yelling for help, they're certainly not drowning, because if they're drowning they're going to be expending every ounce of energy that they have trying to keep their mouth above the surface of the water," says Pratt.

Statistics show the most common killer is dangerous current, which claimed 33 lives on the big lake between 2010 and 2012.
Swimming and pier jumping were next on the list.

WZZM 13 asked Gilliam if he feels safer when he's around a lot of people.

"Probably safer, thinking there's got to be someone out here who knows how to swim well enough to save me," says Gilliam.

However, Pratt says crowded beaches aren't safer at all, in fact, just the opposite.

"There's an increase of drowning when there's warm weather which includes air and water temperature, there's waves, and there's crowded beaches," says Pratt.

Pratt doesn't want to scare people off the pier, he just wants them to be safe, by remembering three "F" words.

"Flip, float, and follow," says Pratt. "Flip over onto your back, to control that panic, float to see what direction it is taking you, and then follow the safest course of action back."

After WZZM 13 talked to Gilliam about his family and future about what they would say.

"My mom she'd pretty much be heart broken over it," says Gilliam. " I want to be a youth pastor, If I end up dead because I wanted to have too much fun on the pier, that's definitely not going to happen."

The numbers show people of all ages have drowned in Lake Michigan since 2010, ranging from a 76-year-old man to a three-year-old girl.
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project would like to see schools have a water safety curriculum, similar to how schools currently teach fire safety.

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