Busy weekend for Beach Rescue Unit

Rahem Mason

MICHIGAN CITY – The search for a 17-year-old boy in Lake Michigan ended tragically after six days Thursday when the body of 17-year-old Rahem Mason was found in southwest Michigan.

Search teams had shifted from rescue to recovery mode, officials said, before the South Bend teen's body was found near shore in Chikaming Township near Union Pier.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources said the death appears to be an accidental drowning, but an autopsy was scheduled to be performed at Western Michigan University.

Witnesses saw Rahem Mason disappear beneath the waves and not resurface just after 7 p.m. July 6 while swimming in Washington Park, according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer Tyler Brock. The beach had been closed to swimmers that day because of waves of up to 5 feet and strong currents.

"Lake Michigan is big – and dangerous," La Porte County Coroner Bob Cutler said.

Divers from the Michigan City Police Department, La Porte County Sheriffs Department, Michigan City Fire Department, and IDNR Conservation searched the area when weather cooperated, along with walking searches on the beach, binocular searches, air and boat searches, and a drone launch in an effort to find Mason.

The Saturday evening call of a swimmer going under was one of several answered by the Michigan CIty Fire Department in the last several days as hot weather packed beaches and strong winds made swimming dangerous at times.

In the Mason case, firefighters were called about 7:07 p.m. Saturday, July 6, to 8 Lake Shore Drive, where the boy disappeared in the choppy waters directly in front of the Sunset Grille, according to an MCFD report.

The Beach Rescue Unit joined MCPD officers and EMS crews in combing the beach near where the teen was last seen. A diver with two tenders entered the water and a spotter scanned the area with binoculars from the lifeguard tower.

The search crews were eventually joined by a boat and helicopter from the U.S. Coast Guard, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, and the search went on until darkness forced it to be called off.

Even as the search for Mason continued from shore and the pier on Sunday, MCFD received a call of another man possibly missing in the lake, according to a department report.

About 2:30 p.m. a witness called 911 to report a man in a wetsuit with a surf board entering the water, and the witness said she looked away for a few seconds, then could no longer see the man.

Firefighters scanned the area from shore, while the Coast Guard vessel, which was searching for Mason, also joined the search for the surfer, the report said.

However, neither the man, nor the surfboard were found in a search from the pier to Stop 2.

About an hour later, the same person called 911 to report another person in a wetsuit about about 50 to 100 feet east of the breakwall. MCFD personnel again searched the beach and shore from the pier to the lifeguard station, while the Coast Guard vessel searched the water, but again, no one was found.

The first incident occurred a few days earlier on the 4th of July, when a 911 caller reported a possible drowning in the 100 block of Franklin Street, in front of the condos near the Amtrak bridge, a report said.

The MCFD Beach Rescue Unit arrived about 1:45 p.m. to find a man and woman in a boat, with a second woman whom they had pulled out of the water.

The owners of the boat said they were at the condos when they heard someone crying for help from the water, the report said. They got in the boat, and found the woman hanging on the metal side of the bridge.

They got her into the boat and brought her to shore, where firefighters assisted her up to a waiting EMS ambulance.

Mason is at least the 14th drowning in Lake Michigan so far this year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, and the third in Indiana. Last year there were 43 drownings in Lake Michigan, including two in Michigan City.

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