CHICAGO — On a bitter Saturday morning when the windchill made it feel like 5 degrees — a man fell into Lake Michigan. Luckily, a SWAT team was nearby and the remarkable rescue was caught on camera.
The footage captured the dramatic situation when a 22-year-old Chicago man slipped down the ice onto the lakefront path then staggered toward the shoreline.
Out of frame, he falls into the frigid water but you can almost see the fall in a jogger’s startled reaction. The jogger immediately began waving at traffic looking for help.
While the good Samaritan fled to flag down drivers, a person in a 25th floor hotel room overlooking the lake happened to witness the fall and immediately called 911.
“I’m so thankful that someone happened to be a bystander and call for help. It’s pretty incredible, said Allie Smith.
The fire department responded within minutes.
“It’s amazing. Thankfully they were able to come so quickly,” said Annie Reff.
But because of the ice shelf first responders couldn’t see the man in the water from Lakeshore Drive.
“When the police need assistance, they call the SWAT team,” said Cmdr. Sean Loughrin, Bureau of Counter Terrorism.
In the meantime, a Chicago police SWAT team on standby downtown also heard the call and decided to head for the trail at a lower vantage point.
SWAT officers Shane Coleman and Peter Jonas sprinted to the shoreline.
“The ice shelf was such a steep drop off. If someone didn’t see him initially, he might never have been found,” said Shane Coleman of the SWAT team. “We immediately saw the subject bobbing in the water, we immediately got out and just ran toward that position.”
“We were just trying to get there as quick as possible without slipping on the ice,” said Jonas.
Coleman laid on the ice and reached into the water.
“Once we had a secure grip, or once I had a secure grip around his torso, under his arms, I called for Pete to start pulling me back, in a human chain type fashion,” he said.
The man weighed 130 pounds, but was heavier in his waterlogged winter coat. But Coleman and Jonas pulled him to safety.
“When you see a guy bobbing in the water adrenaline kicks in. You don’t really think about the cold or the rocky ice. I mean, it was tough footing out there, but it was just kind of ‘less thinking and more doing’ there’s a guy in the water. We got to get him out. Let’s move,” said Coleman.
A lake rescue isn’t a typical situation for a SWAT team — which usually handles hostage situations, bomb threats and barricades — but the unit’s leader says they were doing what any police officer does: Protect and serve.
“They say we’re just doing their job that day,” said Tommy Lamb. “That’s what they believe and that’s their mindset. I think what they did was exceptional, heroic, without hesitation, without fear. They did a great job.”
The man hasn’t been identified publicly, but police said he was released from the hospital and that he and his family were very thankful for the efforts of the SWAT team.