Warning about rip currents on Lake Michigan

August 7, 2012 (CHICAGO)

August is typically the most dangerous time for swimmers at all of the Great Lakes.

For 15 terrifying minutes on Tuesday, Carrie Del Hierro feared her son may have drowned.

"My heart was racing, and I cried when I saw him. It was horrifying - when they started diving, it was horrifying," said Del Hierro.

Thankfully, Will, 7, walked away and hadn't been swept away by Lake Michigan's unpredictable water.

Others have not been so lucky: Corey McFry, 15, from Northwest Indiana; Jorge Sosa, 14, from Chicago; and this past weekend, Dr. Donald Liu, a pediatric surgeon sucked under by rip currents after rescuing two children. They are a few of the faces of a troubling trend.

"Swimming in open water is difficult. When waves pick up a little bit, even six to eight inch waves, that becomes challenging for somebody who's not used to being in the open water and that can push you out a bit and now you're in water that could be a little bit over your head," said Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Ron Dorneker.

"What I immediately started doing was hyperventilating. I tried yelling out to my friends, but I'm inhaling water," said Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Benjamin helped create the project after his own near-drowning two years ago while winter-surfing in Portage, Indiana.

His group just released numbers that show year-to-date drowning deaths in all of the Great Lakes are up. 69 people have lost their lives so far this year, and August, traditionally the deadliest month, has just begun.

"If you're a poor swimmer, continue floating. As long as you're floating, you're alive. As long as you are struggling you are drowning," said Benjamin.

Swimming safety: a conversation parents like Carrie Del Hierro plan to have again and again.

Click here to view David Benjamin's blog

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