SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities shut down South Haven’s South Beach Friday after several water rescues, including two within an hour.
South Haven Area Emergency Services Fire Chief Ron Wise rescued an 18-year-old man who got caught in a riptide along the pier. A second swimmer struggling in the water was pulled to shore by a Good Samaritan.
“He was on his back flailing, yelling, crying for help saying he was ready to give up,” Wise said as he detailed the rescue. “He was basically taking his last breaths when we got to him. We were able to rescue him with the help of police and fire out there.”
SHAES responders stretched a rescue rope line along the pier to search for another possible victim but determined there wasn’t one. South Haven police say several people were rescued from rip currents before they closed the beach.
“I could almost see the frustration in my rescuers today,” Wise said. “They’re tired of seeing people get into this kind of distress.”
Wise says many visitors don’t understand or take a second look at the flag warnings before getting into the water.
“I honestly didn’t notice that they were up,” said visitor Lori Flynn when asked if she was familiar with the flag system. “My sister said something after we saw people getting rescued.”
Flynn was visiting South beach with family from Ohio. They watched as first responders rushed in to rescue a woman Friday afternoon.
“I saw a couple [police] running through. They had on helmets and life jackets and they had a rope,” Flynn said. “It’s very scary to think that in the blink of an eye something so scary and so serious could happen to anyone. It sounds like it wasn’t just kids, it was adults too. Definitely eye-opening.”
The city resorted to adding barricades, keep out signs and caution tape near the beach pier to ensure people would not swim where the water was most dangerous.
They say not only are swimmers risking their lives, but emergency crews are also mentally exhausted.
“We have a lot of rescues out here and some are successful, some are not. It weighs a lot on our rescuers. Even if you’re not the ones out in the water, the ones doing shore support, back up support. It’s stressful on all of them,” Wise said.
Wise says they’re considering keeping the barricades up through Saturday. They are also warning swimmers who disregard red flags: if they have to be rescued, they will be fined $500.
“It’s simple: red flag, don’t go in. It’s like putting your seat belt on when you’re driving, not drinking and driving or wearing a helmet when you’re on a motorcycle,” he added.
South Beach was packed at the time of the water rescues as people tried to cool down during an Excessive Heat Warning for much of West Michigan.
Red flags were flying at the beach Friday afternoon, but dozens of people were still in the water. The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety reported a similar situation at Grand Haven State Park.
The United States Coast Guard urged beach visitors Friday be extra cautious, reminding all swimmers who get caught in a rip current to calmly tread water or swim parallel or at an angle to shore until they are out of the current’s grip.