GRAND HAVEN, Mich. - Complete strangers came together Sunday afternoon to try to save more than five lives as Lake Michigan's rough waters pulled people under.
Two men died and three other people remain hospitalized after human chains helped several people out of the water.
"It was like a flashback," Ryan Fox said. "As soon as I rounded the corner, you see the helicopter, the chains in the water and just cops everywhere. It was a bad scene."
Fox's brother Andy drowned in a rip current at this very beach nearly 15 years ago. Since then, his family has been a major advocate for water safety. Which that is what compelled Fox to hop on his bike and head to the beach when he heard the sirens Sunday afternoon.
"I ran into a buddy that was in the first chain down here and he had life jackets and a body board. So he and I got on the body boards to get into the deeper water in between where they were searching."
Two different sets of human chains were created throughout the afternoon. Tasha Christopher, a West Michigan native who now lives in Florida was part of the first chain.
"All of the sudden this lady came running to us out of the water and said everybody get out the water someone's drowning," she said.
"Me and my sister were the last link of the one human chain and we were out there maybe five minutes and the waves were well over heads. It was scary just being out there."
Christoper was able to help pull 64-year-old David Knaffle out of the water. He was later pronounced dead.
Hours later in the second chain, five other swimmers were pulled out, including 20-year-old Jeremiah Diaz who later died. Three other swimmers remain hospitalized in stable condition.
DNR officials told 13 ON YOUR SIDE over the phone they try to alert people of the severe conditions with their flag system, but legally there is nothing they can do to physically keep people out of the water.
"The problem is that when the red flags go up, we don't have a hard and fast rule that says you cannot go in here or you're subject to arrest or tickets or something like that," Ron Olson, DNR Chief of Parks and Recreation said.
"Unless there is a declared emergency by law enforcement which occurs very seldom."
The beach did have a red flag flying on Sunday when the incidents occurred. That red flag remained up throughout Monday.
Olson tells 13 ON YOUR SIDE, the DNR plans to meet with law enforcement to debrief on this incident and talk about what they can do going forward.
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