HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Strong waves swept away a man and woman participating in a polar-plunge style event in Lake Michigan Sunday morning, leaving the man dead and the woman missing.
Despite churning waves and gale-force winds, the group of more than a dozen cold water swimmers entered the waters of Lake Michigan around 9 a.m. Sunday at Park Avenue Beach near the North Shore Yacht Club in Highland Park.
"People got out the cars, went to the beach, stripped down to swimsuits and went to the water," said Maureen Hammond, North Shore Yacht Club.
Michael Vodicka, who lives in Highland Park, said the water was so strong that the swimmers could only go out about 20 yards. The U.S. Coast Guard received reports of waves up to 8 feet tall. He saw the swimmers struggling because of how forceful the waves were. As they swam, a 52-year-old Elgin woman and 46-year-old Itasca man were swept away by the strong surf.
"As I’m looking out, all the sudden I see this woman screaming and a man’s body rolls onto the beach in the waves," Vodicka said.
Since the surf was so strong, first responders could only use land-based resources initially. Rescue workers pulled the man to shore, Highland Park Fire Chief Larry Amidei said, and paramedics performed CPR. He was taken to a Highland Park hospital and later pronounced dead.
The woman disappeared in the waves, and is now missing.
Dive teams began searching a swath of water along the Highland Park shoreline and a Coast Guard helicopter was brought in to aid the search.
After searching a 10 square-mile area near where the woman was last seen, the Coast Guard put its recovery efforts on hold around 4 p.m. Sunday.
Police in towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois and Wisconsin were asked to monitor their beaches for the missing swimmer.