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Swimmer Drowns Despite Prompt Rescue Efforts

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

National Park News

On the afternoon of August 15th, the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office’s 911 dispatcher received 25 cell phone calls of a person drowning in Lake Michigan off the mouth of the Platte River, a heavily used area within the park.  Within four minutes of the initial call, rangers and campground visitor use assistants and county deputies were on scene and were joined a few minutes later by the county sheriff and a DNR conservation officer. Witnesses said that 21-year-old Joseph Chmielewski of Westland, Michigan, had been swimming with his stepfather when the two tired and tried to return to shore.  The stepfather got to shallow water and yelled for help, and witnesses said that they also saw Chmielewski hold up one hand waving for help.  Swimmers in the area went to his aid, found Chmielewski on the bottom in about seven feet of water, brought him to the surface, then used a kayak to transport him the 200 yards to shore. They estimated that Chmielewski had been under water for about eight minutes.  The two swimmers began CPR and were joined by two physicians and other park visitors with ranger and paramedic Cristal Casler assisting.  Rangers Jim Dal Sasso, Phil Snow, and Paul Chalup, with the assistance of several park visitors, helped carry the victim across the Platte River and used a wheeled litter to transport him to the waiting Benzie County ambulance.  After being transported to Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort, Michigan, Chmielewski was pronounced dead.  The incident was managed under unified command with district ranger Michael Stansberry and the sheriff coordinating to manage the incident as well as the high concentration of on-looking visitors. The Benzie County Sheriff’s Office is working in conjunction with park staff to determine the cause of the drowning and an autopsy is being conducted.  No rip currents were present in the area at the time.



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