Family mourning teen who drowned at 31st St. Beach

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicago family is mourning after a 17-year-old died after an accident in Lake Michigan, extending what has already been a deadly summer in the Great Lakes.

It was meant to be a fun family day out at the beach to celebrate a sibling's birthday. Instead, a family is now mourning the loss of 17-year-old Eddie Horns, who drowned Friday night at 31st Street Beach.

"We swam from the pier, we were going to swim to shore and we got about ten feet and said, 'No we're going to go back,' and on our way back he kind of panicked," said Paul Jackson, Horns' uncle.

His relatives say Horns knew how to swim. It is not clear what caused him to panic. It was 8:30 p.m. Friday and lifeguards were no longer on duty. But despite his uncle's best efforts, his nephew went under.

"I told him to doggy paddle and told I'm to try to float," Jackson said. "He was just kind of panicking. I knew there was trouble, so I swam back over to try to grab him and help him up and he was grabbing me."

Horns is now one of 19 people who've drowned in the Great Lakes this year, 403 since 2010.

"Drowning doesn't look like drowning," said Dave Benjamin, Great Lake Surf Rescue. "If someone is struggling in water, they're likely not going to be able to yell for help because they're usually using all their effort to keep at the surface of the water."

Water safety experts say often times drownings happen because people do not know their true swimming abilities and they underestimate the hidden dangers of open water. The key to a swimmer who is in trouble is to flip, float and follow.

"The emphasis is on floating," Benjamin said. "Flipping over on your back and floating, floating to keep your head above water. Floating to conserve your energy and floating to calm yourself down from the panic of drowning, and then follow the safest path out of the water."

For Horns' family, their message is simple.

"Always stay safe, safety first,'" Jackson said. "I wish we had taken a different approach."

Experts say once a person goes into stress in the water, it usually takes around 60 seconds before they go under.
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