GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — It was a dangerous Memorial Day on the waters of Michigan. At least four people, including a six-year-old girl, died from drowning and, in Grand Haven, four people are lucky to be alive after a tense rescue.
Around 4 p.m. on Monday, Grand Haven Public Safety was alerted to two swimmers struggling in Lake Michigan at the state park. Dalton Crawford, who was enjoying a day at the beach with friends and family, heard the cries for help and jumped in with a floatation toy to help.
“I just sprung right into action to go save them,” said Crawford via a Zoom with FOX 17 on Tuesday. “No one else went out there to help so I’m like, you know, let me just try to do it.”
Crawford and a few other brave bystanders managed to make it nearly to the first victim when he heard the second one calling out for help.
“As I got closer to him, I had seen he basically gave up,” he said. “He was done saying help, so he was basically drowning.”
As Grand Haven Rescue and Coast Guard boats arrived to help, Crawford managed to drag the second victim back to shore. In the meantime, two civilian bystanders who were part of a human chain to reach the first victim began struggling and also needed rescuing.
Crawford, who got engaged the day before Memorial Day, says everyone is lucky to be alive – only minor injuries were reported.
“When I got back to my fiancé, I gave her a big hug and a kiss and you know, just really happy to be alive,” he said, passing on a warning to others about going in the water on red flag days.
“Don’t do it,” he said, “because the water, it’ll pull you in. So don’t do it. Our plan wasn’t even to get in the water.”
Professional rescuers recommend paying close attention to the flag and posted warnings each time you’re out at the beach. Stay where you can stand and know your limits on every beach trip.
“As far as red flag days go, we really want people to just stay out of the water, that’s the biggest thing,” said Lt. Ryan Enlow with the Grand Haven Dept. of Public Safety. “Also know your limitations. If you’re not a great swimmer, stay on the beach and just enjoy being out in nature.”
Lt. Enlow says rescues like this are preventable with those simple steps, but can really tax the public safety team when they do happen, especially in instances like Memorial Day where multiple swimmers find themselves in trouble at once.
“When a water rescue comes in like this where there’s two people that need to be rescued, it immediately takes all of our staff plus the county boats, plus the coast guard, plus the bystanders,” said Lt. Enlow. “We were very fortunate to have some people who were willing to help.”
In 2022, the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project has tracked 25 possible drownings on the Great Lakes, 13 in Lake Michigan alone. Since 2010, the GLSRP has tracked 1,071 drownings on the Great Lakes.