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Evanston Fire Department rescuers lift a person into an ambulance parked just 50 feet from the water on Saturday near Clark Street. (Photo by Mike Roche)

Three swimmers were rescued Saturday off the breakwater at the boat ramp south of Clark Street, but as the hours went by the search for a fourth person turned into a recovery operation, Evanston Fire Chief Paul Polep said a little before 5 p.m.  

The first emergency call came in at 12:55 p.m., when three swimmers were reported struggling in the water off the breakwater at the Church Street boat ramp. When the Evanston Fire Department water rescue team arrived, the fire crew pulled a mother and child out of the water, along with a male swimmer who had entered the water in an effort to help the struggling swimmers.

The three swimmers were transported to Evanston Hospital, the daughter and adult male in good condition, and the mother in critical condition, according to Chief Polep. 

Rescue workers then searched the beachfront and found clothes and an ID, but could not find the person to whom they belonged. Presuming a fourth person was in the water, they began a rescue operation.

An Evanston firefighter searches Saturday with binoculars, scanning water near the shore from a 100-foot ladder extended over the shoreline. (Photo by Mike Roche)

The Evanston Fire Department called in search and rescue crews from neighboring communities, including teams from Libertyville, Wheeling, Highland Park, Schaumburg, Park Ridge, Elk Grove, Wilmette, Hoffman Estates and Chicago that joined in the rescue effort.

After nearly three hours of searching, Chief Polep announced the rescue effort had moved into a recovery phase. He spoke at the Evanston lakefront a little before 5 p.m., along with Deputy City Manager Kelley Gandurski, and said emergency crews “are in the process of searching for a body in the water at this point. It is confirmed that we are out of a rescue mission. At this point we’re in a recovery mode.”

Divers were pulled from the water, and efforts were focused on working with “sonar to look for this body,” Chief Polep said.

When asked how he was certain the swimmer was no longer alive, Chief Polep said “anytime a person’s in the water for longer than an hour, we have standard operating guidelines. We actually went beyond that to give every effort we could, and after so many hours in the water, it then becomes a recovery for the safety of our divers and all the people working on the water.”

Crowds gathered all afternoon Saturday to watch the rescue efforts. (Photo by Mike Roche)

When asked how confident they were the clothes and identification belonged to another swimmer, Polep responded, “We do believe we have a fourth confirmed person in the water.” 

Searchers on personal watercraft assisted recovery efforts south of Clark Street on Saturday. (RoundTable photo)

He said they were now relying on sonar rather than divers for the safety of everyone involved, adding “the rip current waters are very dangerous today. Rip currents have pulled the swimmers. That’s why some of the beaches have been closed.”

Calling the waters “very unpredictable,” he cautioned that beachgoers “should be very mindful of what you’re doing before you go in the water and be well aware of all your surroundings.”

No update could be provided on the condition of the three people taken to the hospital.

Chief Polep described the search as involving “technicians out there with boats that will scan the water with sonar.”

When asked how long the recovery efforts would last, he responded, “We’re going to go until we, we can’t go.”

Update from the Evanston Fire Department:

At approximately 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 18, the Evanston Fire Department recovered the body of a 20-year-old adult male in Lake Michigan following a seven-hour search operation. (Local media reports indicate the body was later identified by Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office as Hussin Abdul-Samad, 21, of Chicago.)

The search began at approximately 2 p.m. after Evanston Fire Department crews, who were clearing the scene of the initial lakefront rescue, discovered unclaimed belongings on the beach, including shoes and clothing. The Evanston Fire Department immediately initiated a 2nd Level MABAS Dive Box response, bringing in dive crews from area fire departments to assist with a potential search and rescue operation.

Security camera footage from the scene later confirmed that an individual entered the lake, went underwater, and did not resurface. The individual entered the water prior to the arrival of emergency crews responding to the first incident. 

The Evanston Fire Department appreciates the assistance of 19 area fire departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Chicago Fire Department for assisting with the search.

Evanston beaches are closed for swimming for the season; lifeguards are not on duty.

(This story has updated to correct the name of the boat ramp.)

 

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  1. Kudos to the Evanston Fire Department and other first responders who saved three people from drowning September 18, 2021, just off of Evanston’s Clark Street Beach.
    Another young man, just 21 years old, was not so lucky. His body was recovered hours later.
    To paraphrase Evanston Fire Chief Paul Polep, a day may be beautiful and the water may appear calm, but you never know what is going on beneath the surface.
    With Evanston beaches closed and without lifeguards until next season, I propose a simple warning system to alert potential swimmers that entering the water would be especially risky on a particular day. This could be done by installing flagpoles with red warning flags at Evanston shorelines warning of particularly dangerous conditions. In addition, orange life rings and signage on surviving rip currents could be made available.
    There will always be people who will buck the odds and swim on a dangerous days, regardless. Good luck to them. But for the rest of us, understanding those odds before swimming would probably save lives and as well as first responders the trauma of pulling us out and the City from unnecessary expense.

  2. The boat ramp south of the Clark Street Beach is the Church Street Boat Ramp. This is the staging area for the rescues. There are long stretches of sand free waterfront to the north and south of the Church Street Boat Ramp I’d would like to know where the swimmers in the story entered the water. Where did the currents overtake them?