UPDATED: Responders recover body of drowning victim in Thunder Bay River

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Emergency responders work in an Alpena parking lot after divers found the body of a drowning victim in Thunder Bay River on Sunday.

ALPENA — Emergency responders on Sunday recovered the body of a man who went into the Thunder Bay River to try to rescue a dog.

Police found the 36-year-old man at the bottom of the river in 20 feet of water, about 20 feet offshore, just north of the 2nd Avenue bridge in what police have called an accidental drowning.

Police have not released the man’s name, but he was from Lainsburg, near Lansing.

Responders received a call for help about 12:50 p.m. Sunday after the man entered the water to help his fiancee rescue her dog.

Bystanders at the scene said the man slipped on wet rocks along the river, then fell into the water and disappeared below the surface, according to a joint news release from the Alpena Fire Department and Alpena Police Department.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Responders search near the 2nd Avenue bridge in Alpena for a man presumed drowned in the Thunder Bay River on Sunday.

The woman and the dog made it out of the river.

At 2 p.m., the search for the man was declared a recovery operation, not a rescue, because of the length of time the man had been underwater, according to Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush.

He called the attempted rescue a well-coordinated effort by the Alpena Fire Department, Alpena Police Department, Alpena County Sheriff’s Office, Alpena County Emergency Management Team, Michigan State Police, Victim Services, and U.S. Coast Guard members.

“Everybody did the very best they could,” Forbush said. “It’s tragic that we couldn’t have a more positive outcome.”

The equipment available to firefighters for water rescues, designed for surface-level emergencies, was inadequate to help them with a deep-water rescue, Forbush said.

Several Alpena Fire Department officers in cold-water rescue suits attempted to dive to the river’s bottom, but they couldn’t swim that deep without dive equipment, he said.

Two firefighter/paramedics in an Alpena Fire Department rescue boat, and another in the boat of a local fisherman helping with the search, probed the bottom of the river with long poles, hoping to find the man.

Coast Guard officers, stationed in Alpena on weekends during the summer, helped with the search, and a Coast Guard helicopter flown in from Traverse City scanned the river from above, looking for the missing man.

A drone brought in from the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t be flown while the helicopter was in the sky and was not used, Forbush said.

Two dive team deputies from the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office, equipped with dive gear, found the man around 2:30 p.m.

Forbush lauded the helpfulness of community members, including a private diver, Robert Doyle, who agreed to help with the search but arrived after the body was found, and Joe Collins, a pastor from nearby Shoreline Wesleyan Church, who helped Victim Services advocates comfort people on shore.

Alpena 911 dispatchers coordinated the effort flawlessly, Forbush said, and Alpena County 911 Director Kim Elkie came to the scene to make sure responders had what they needed.

The Department of Public Works assisted by raising the bridge for rescue traffic.

While responders were working, Alpena County Emergency Management posted a notification on social media, asking the public to stay away from the river near downtown Alpena because of an active rescue situation.

The agency updated its post around 2:45 p.m., notifying residents that emergency responders were clearing the scene.

Forbush called the incident an excellent example of how the community comes together in an emergency.

“So much assistance from so many people,” Forbush said. The end result was tragic, but, he said, “it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today