FERRYSBURG, Mich. — A 16-year-old boy drowned Wednesday evening while swimming in Lake Michigan with members of his church youth group.
The teen, named Ryan, was a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints in Spring Lake.
Deputies with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office, as well as members of the Coast Guard, responded to North Beach Park in Ferrysburg just before 8:00 p.m. Wednesday evening.
They say Ryan was with a church group, when water conditions pushed several teens out of the swim area.
Deputies say the 16-year-old was swept away and started to struggle.
“A friend of mine, her 11-year-old daughter and her friend were the closest to the young man," explained Liesa, a member of Ryan's church, who was also at the beach earlier in the day Wednesday.
“Here he is, a strong boy... it could have been them, but he was just taken.. they were closest in proximity to him, and he was just taken right in front of them.”
Police say rescue crews were on scene within about 3 minutes of a call going out.
“Usually Lake Michigan is just a sweet angel, and yesterday she was pretty vengeful,” Liesa told FOX 17.
Witnesses tried to reach the boy, but they couldn't get to him before he went under.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it... the waves were broken, there was a little bit you could see the current going out... and I said, that’s an undertow, also called a riptide. It's a small one yes, but you could see it.”
Police say the waves were reaching heights of about 2-2.5 feet high when they arrived.
“It can look beautiful and calm, and just fun waves, and you don’t realize how powerful and dangerous the situation can be, very very quickly,” explained Jena McClurken, who has trained for the past four years as an open water swimmer.
McClurken was also at the park when the teenager went under, though she had briefly left the beach area prior to the emergency taking place.
“You get a loss of energy just being in there a few minutes," she said.
“If you miss a couple of breaths, you start to panic, and if you’re not trained in what to do and how to get out of that situation, it's pretty terrifying.”
The sheriff's office says first responders did find the teen in the water after about 45 minutes of searching, but lifesaving measures were not successful.