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A recent high school graduate described by his school as the “Best and Brightest” drowned Tuesday afternoon in southern Lake Huron when he was reportedly separated from his inflatable raft about 200 yards from the shoreline.

The Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office received a call around 4:48 p.m. that 18-year-old Ikechukwu (Ike) Onwuzurike was missing in the water, after he had fallen off a raft.  According to Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki, friends called out to Ike warning him that strong winds were blowing him away from the beach.  “He tried to paddle and swim his way in, but somehow he separated from his raft,” Biniecki said. “There were witnesses that saw (the raft) tumbling, tumbling, tumbling until it was out of sight.”  Rescue crews pulled his body from the water about three hours later.  The young man was pronounced dead at the scene; he was not wearing a life jacket.  Authorities do not believe alcohol was a factor in the incident.

Earlier that day, on the same lake, two teenage girls survived a similar situation.  The girls were on an inflatable raft when they realized the wind had carried them 1 ½ miles out into the lake.  Rescue crews were called about 3pm when the girls used a cell phone to call a family member for help.  During the rescue, a firefighter was thrown from his personal watercraft by 6- 8-foot waves.  He was treated and released from the hospital for water ingestion; the two girls were uninjured.  Like Ike, the girls were not wearing personal flotation devices.

According to reports, the waters were calm, but the winds strong.  “The wind blows that device and you can’t control it. When it’s a westerly wind it blows you into the lake and you can’t fight it,” said Biniecki.

With summer upon us, spending time in the water is a given. Biniecki offers these safety tips:

  • Always use a personal flotation device.  It will keep even an experienced swimmer afloat as they may need to spend a long time in the water awaiting rescue, have to swim a long distance to shore, or they may be injured or unconscious.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings on the water.
  • Always be mindful of the weather.  Use caution in partaking in swimming and/or rafting activities while high wind conditions persist on the water.
  • Secure your inflatable when they’re on shore. If the raft drifts out into the open water, let it go.
  • Stay with your vessel if it overturns, but if you separate from a float, don’t go after it.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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