Teen pulled from Lake Michigan dies; boy, 15, from Tinley Park

July 29, 2013 5:36:42 AM PDT
A Tinley Park family is mourning a teenage boy who drowned in Lake Michigan over the weekend.

Matthew Kocher, 15, was pulled from the choppy lake by lifeguards off New Buffalo City Beach Saturday in southwest Michigan.

It was supposed to be a fun day at the beach for Kocher. He was on a day trip to New Buffalo with his summer camp when around 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the Coast Guard says he got caught in a rip current while swimming in Lake Michigan.

The conditions Saturday were far from ideal. There was quite a bit of wind and waves. Red flags signaled that swimmers should stay out of the water.

"It's a very violent wave. Unlike the ocean, where you have a rolling, constant wave. Here they come from every angle," said Lucas Zingler of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Kocher's family describes the teen as an easygoing, good-natured kid who enjoyed volunteer work.

He was also a good athlete. As a freshman at Tinley Park's Andrew High School, he played volleyball, basketball and football. Officials say lifeguards saw him struggling and went into the water to get him. Kocher was taken to a local hospital and then airlifted to the University of Chicago Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"Teenage boys have the ability to overestimate our abilities and be susceptible to peer pressure," said Dave Benjamin of Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. "Teenage boys usually lead the statistics in drownings."

Kocher was one of two people two drown in Lake Michigan Saturday. The second one was a 37-year-old from Lafayette, Indiana, who was at Beverly Shores when he got caught in a rip current.

"What we advise is flip, float and follow. Flip to get on your back, float to stay above water. Float to conserve energy," said Benjamin, talking about what to do if caught in a rip current. "While you're floating you're already following the current. Assess what way it's pulling you and swim perpendicular to the flow."

If you are a weak swimmer and tired from swimming, Benjamin says the most important thing you can do is continue to float and not struggle. If you struggle you are actively drowning and will usually go down within 15 to 45 seconds.

This weekend's deaths bring to 17 the number of people who have drowned in Lake Michigan since June 6.


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