Chesterton Tribune

Divers, chopper, boats fail to find man swept away into lake

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The intensive search for a Bronx, N.Y., man whose inflatable boat capsized off Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore remained partially suspended this morning, after the U.S. Coast Guard calculated that yesterday’s strong south/southwest winds probably carried him well off shore.

Porter Fire Chief Lewis Craig told the Chesterton Tribune today that, based on Monday’s wind direction and velocity—more than 30 miles per hour in the afternoon—the USCG believes that Leonel Dominguez, 31, may have been swept as far as four miles into Lake Michigan.

National Park Service (NPS) spokesman Bruce Rowe did say that, while the Department of Natural Resources had a boat in the water this morning and was using side-mounted sonar to search for Dominguez—and that NPS may put a boat in the water as well—all dive activity has been suspended.

According to a statement released late last night by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, around 3 p.m. on Monday, Dominguez and Evelyn Hernandez were rowing a small boat approximately one-half mile east of the Lakeview Picnic Area in Beverly Shores and a quarter-mile off shore when they determined they were “out too far.” An off-shore wind in excess of 30 mph and waves of three feet, however, prevented the two from “making any headway when trying to return to shore.”

“The wind was pushing them away from shore faster than they could row or paddle back to the beach,” DNR Conservation Officer Gene Davis told the Tribune.

Dominguez then entered the water and began swimming, pulling the boat behind him, but soon tired and tried to return to the boat. His efforts, though, capsized the boat—an inflatable raft apparently purchased for $20 from the Chesterton Kmart earlier in the day, Rowe said—and “gale-force winds” blew the craft away.

Dominguez and Hernandez were forced to swim for shore, “struggling to fight the waves and the wind,” DNR said. Hernandez, for her part, was able to yell for help and get the attention of a man on the beach, Nick Dominguez, who swam to her and “saved her life.”

But Dominguez disappeared and a search—suspended only at dark—failed to locate him. Nearly 50 responders and divers, assisted with boats equipped with side-scan sonar and a USCG helicopter, participated in that search, DNR said.

Responding agencies: the Porter and Chesterton fire departments’ dive/rescue teams; NPS; DNR; USCG; and the Beverly Shores, Ogden Dunes, Portage, Burns Harbor, and Washington Township fire departments.

CFD Capt. Jamie Hicks said that four Chesterton divers combed an area between two sand bars approximately 200 yards off shore and at a maximum depth of 13 feet, aided by a tow bar attached to the ODFD’s jet ski. That method allows divers to stay submerged for as long as 40 minutes, while unassisted swimming will tire a diver after about 25 minutes, Hicks noted.

But nightfall forced the divers out of the water. Hicks said that divers must be specially certified for night operations, that submergible lights are prohibitively expensive, and that in any case divers at night risk being struck by watercraft.

PFD divers, meanwhile, formed part of a human chain and walked along the shoreline about a mile east of Broadway, Craig said.


Posted 6/19/2012