Chesterton Tribune

Man missing from West Beach found safe today off national park property

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The Aurora, Ill., man whose disappearance on Sunday from West Beach at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore prompted a massive air, water, and ground search has been found.

Late this morning, the National Park Service reported that Juan Tovar, 18, had been located “uninjured” and that “arrangements are being made to return him to his family.”

NPS spokesperson Lynda Lancaster was unable to provide any further information on the incident, except to say that NPS rangers located Tovar “off” park property and that the matter is under investigation.

Why and how Tovar vanished, where he was when scores of emergency personnel—including two helicopters—were frantically searching for him, and where he spent the night are, at this point, unknown.

Just before deadline today, however, Porter Fire Chief Lewis Craig told the Chesterton Tribune that he had been informed, by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, that Tovar was found in Merrillville.

At 10 a.m. Sunday Tovar and nine other persons arrived at West Beach from Illinois, NPS Chief Ranger Mike Bremer told the Tribune earlier this morning.

At 1 p.m., while he was swimming with his group, Tovar told friends that he was going to go for a walk. He was last seen heading to the beach in waist-deep water.

At 4 p.m., when Tovar’s friends realized that it had been three hours since they’d seen him, they reported Tovar missing.

An intensive search was then launched, Bremer said, involving Porter, Chesterton, Burns Harbor, Ogden Dunes, Portage, and Gary firefighters and emergency personnel; DNR conservation officers; NPS rangers; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the Lake County Sheriff’s Police. Two helicopters were mobilized as part of the search.

Meanwhile, a ground search was conducted as well and all areas of the National Lakeshore as far west as Wells Street Beach and as far east as Ogden Dunes were searched and each of those areas was searched a total of five times, Bremer said.

West Beach life guards—calling on volunteers—also formed a human chain to search about a mile and a half of water.

Bremer noted that conditions for a water search were ideal. In fact, photos taken from the LCSP helicopter captured images of divers at the bottom of the lake, he said. At 7 p.m. the water search was suspended, when it became clear that Tovar almost certainly wasn’t in the water.

Searchers did locate Tovar’s vehicle, though, in the parking lot, with his cell phone inside, Bremer said. Because Tovar was known to have brought his cell with him to the beach, searchers at that point were able to conclude that Tovar had made it as least as far as the West Beach lot after leaving the shoreline.

Family members, for their part, advised NPS that Tovar has no known health problems. “They can’t explain what’s going on any better than we can,” Bremer said.

 

Posted 7/23/2012