By Nicole Brodzik
On Thursday July 20, adult male was pronounced dead after being pulled from Lafayette Bay on Lake Minnetonka. Bystanders retrieved the man’s body before emergency responders arrived on the scene.
Despite attempts to resuscitate him, responders were unable to revive him. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said that the incident did not appear to be boating-related, but did not give the cause of the man’s death.
Authorities later identified the victim as David Roberts of Oak Grove. The events surrounding the drowning are still unclear.
Last year, there were 53 deaths on Minnesota lakes, according to the Department of Natural Resources. So far this year, there have been two on Lake Minnetonka.
Hennepin County Water Patrol urges all lake-goers to take precautions when swimming or boating on Lake Minnetonka and all other lakes.
“The number one thing we always say is to wear a life jacket,” Lieutenant Kent Vnuk said. “Virtually no drownings happen when the person is wearing a life jacket.”
Vnuk noted that attempting to save a drowning victim can sometimes be more dangerous than waiting for authorities. In the July 20 incident, bystanders were able to safely reach the man and return to shore, but Vnuk cautioned bystanders to use their best judgement when considering putting their own lives at risk to save others.
“The absolute first thing people should do if they see someone in distress in the water is call 9-1-1,” he said. “After that, it’s really dependent on how strong of a swimmer you are. Even for strong swimmers, attempting to save someone can be dangerous.”
Vnuk explained that when a person is in distress and thrashing around, he or she will often reach for the highest point of contact. When faced with an incoming rescuer, that highest point of contact is often the rescuer’s head.
The victim can then accidently push that person under water, putting them both at risk. Those kinds of accidents are rare, though, said Vnuk.
What’s more common, he said, is what he called a silent drowning.
“People, especially kids, usually don’t make a lot of noise in that situation,” said Vnuk. “They take a gulp of water and quietly go down. It usually happens with people right there and the victim is face down and unconscious.”
From the standpoint of bystander intervention, these silent drowning situations are considerably safer for the rescuer, so long as they are a strong swimmer. Vnuk stressed the importance of donning a life jacket before one dives in to save a man or woman overboard.
“If you’re going in after them, you have to be wearing a life jacket,” he said. “You should also bring a second jacket or other flotation device to help move that person onto their back. Then, as soon as you can, move them to land, or into a boat if you’re far from the shore.”
Once on a dry surface, the best thing to do is open the victim’s airways and perform CPR while waiting for emergency responders to arrive.
“The biggest thing I can stress is putting on that life jacket.” Vnuk said. “You’ve already got one person in trouble in the water. Without a life jacket on, that rescuer can easily become a second victim and we don’t want that. Don’t go out to save someone without a jacket on or if you’re a weaker swimmer.”
As far as preventing these kinds of accidents in the first place, Vnuk said adults need to be smart about their alcohol consumption and make sure they know how to operate their boats.
“Alcohol is a contributing factor in a lot of adult drownings on lakes out here,” he said. “And it’s not just about the driver being sober, but passengers need to be careful too. Both of our diving injuries last year happened because boat passengers had too much to drink and dove into shallow water.”
Despite the two deaths this summer, it’s been a relatively safe year for boaters in Hennepin County, in which zero major boating accidents have been reported. Vnuk said that people should continue to be aware of their surroundings, understand how to control their boats and know the rules of the road.
For more information on water safety, visit http://www.hennepinsheriff.org/water-patrol#faq or http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/index.html.