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Advocates want lifeguards at beaches longer after boy nearly drowns in Lake Michigan

Summer beach season brings drowning concerns on Lake Michigan
Summer beach season brings drowning concerns on Lake Michigan 02:15

CHICAGO (CBS) — A 6-year-old boy was in critical condition Thursday after being pulled from Lake Michigan the night before.

So far this year, there have been five drownings in Lake Michigan. But beach season doesn't officially kick off until Friday.

Chicago Police said the boy was rescued from the lake at Montrose Beach around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday.

The Chicago Fire Department brought the boy to Lurie Children's Hospital, where he was in critical condition at last check.

Police were surveying the area earlier Thursday.

"If lifeguards were on duty, there's a possibility it might have made a difference," said Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.  

Meanwhile on Thursday morning just after 11 a.m., a man was also found unresponsive in the water near Kathy Osterman Beach – on the lakefront near Bryn Mawr Avenue. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Montrose Beach and Kathy Osterman Beach are among 22 Chicago beaches that will officially open for the season on Friday.

Safety advocates urge caution after boy nearly drowns in Lake Michigan 02:31

Drownings on the Great Lakes

Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project said this weekend historically marks the beginning of the season for drownings. And there have already been several before beach season has even begun.

"Right now, we have 14 Great Lakes drownings to date for 2024," said Benjamin. "Five of those have been in Lake Michigan."

Half of all Great Lakes drownings will happen in Lake Michigan, and half of Lake Michigan drownings will occur in the south end of Lake Michigan.

After years of severe lifeguard staffing shortages, the Chicago Park District said nearly 2,000 candidates applied this summer, encouraged in part by a stipend-based swim class.

Lake Michigan lifeguard hours

The city says the program produced nearly 200 participants prepared to meet the test requirements to become future lifeguards.

Lifeguards will be on duty starting Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But Benjamin said those hours should be extended to capture early-morning swimmers and after-work beach crowds. The hours during which lifeguards were on duty used to be longer.

"There's some people that are getting in the water at sunrise, and they're going in the water after sunset. Quite some time ago, it used to be almost like 9 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. that lifeguards would be on duty," said Benjamin, "and oftentimes - and unfortunately, we'll probably see it; we've already seen it, actually, unfortunately - is that a drowning incident happens when lifeguards were not on duty."

"If we could have the lifeguard hours reinstated back to the 9 a.m. to 9, 10 p.m., that would be the optimal choice," he said.

The city is still accepting applicants for the final swim test of the season on June 1.

Starting Friday, the Park District Security will also deploy its designated lakefront beach mobile units to patrol through Labor Day. 

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