Officials warn of dangerous currents in aftermath of drowning

Published: Jun. 13, 2016 at 6:13 PM EDT
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We're learning more about the deaths of two people who drowned in Lake Superior over the weekend. It happened off Little Presque Isle, in an area some say, needs more signage to warn swimmers of possible danger.

"I think what may happen is sometimes, people misjudge the strength of the currents or the ability for them to get caught in these things," said John Pepin, Michigan DNR.

Just after 3 p.m. on Saturday, two 22-year-old women swimming near Little Presque Isle were unable to get back to shore. A 24-year-old man on the beach jumped in to try and rescue the women, but he too was swept out by the current.

Bystanders on the beach went into the water with life jackets and managed to rescue one of the women. The other woman and man drowned. Divers later recovering their bodies.

"The DNR had put up a sign, warning people of the inherent dangers of rip currents out at Little Presque Isle," Pepin said.

But Saturday was a warm day and many were out enjoying the beach.

"...and had strong, northwest winds, gusting over 30 miles an hour, with waves generally in the two to four foot range," said Matt Zika, National Weather Service.

However, the waves on Lake Superior are different from those in the ocean; the period between waves is much shorter.

"And so as a result, you have one wave coming at you very quickly, one after another," Zika added.

This wasn't the first time someone drowned in those waters. The most recent time before this weekend was in September of 2013, when a Detroit man lost his life swimming near Little Presque Isle.

Experts say, in order to free yourself from a typical rip current, it's best to swim parallel to shore, but doing that can be a serious mistake in certain areas in the U.P.

"The currents that we're talking about here locally near Picnic Rocks and Little Presque Isle, are what are called 'Long Shore Currents,' said Zika. :So the currents are actually going along the same direction as the shoreline, so in those cases, you actually want to swim across the current and towards the shoreline, because that's going to be your shortest distance to get out of the current. While it looks like it's very docile, it might not be a big thing, you have to take into account that on those windy, wavy days, the Lake is a very dangerous thing."

The National Weather Service does issue forecasts online, so Zika encourages people to check that forecast on the Marquette city of National Weather Service page.

A few years back, a lifesaving station was put in place near Picnic Rocks, along with information on the currents.

Monday, the DNR made contact with the sheriff's department along with township and county officials, on the possibility of putting another lifesaving station near Little Presque Isle.