This story has been updated here: Park Point drowning victims identified, firefighter recovering
DULUTH — A Hudson girl and her western Wisconisn father died Thursday after being swept away while swimming in the turbulent waters of Lake Superior off Park Point in Duluth.
The two had been pulled from the water by emergency personnel during a search that lasted for more than an hour amid the large waves. The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office reported late Thursday that the victims were a 10-year-old girl from Hudson, Wis., and a 38-year-old man from Osceola, Wis. Their names were being withheld pending notification of family.
Duluth Fire Department Assistant Chief Erik Simonson said neither the man nor the girl had a pulse when they were pulled from the lake in front of the Park Point Beach House about 40 minutes apart. Firefighters began CPR immediately and the victims were transported to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center.
One firefighter took “in a lot of water” while returning the man to shore, and he was also taken to a hospital for evaluation, Simonson said. Two firefighters wearing survival suits made their way back to shore after the Duluth Fire Department’s rescue boat capsized in the waves.
Authorities responded at about 4:20 p.m. Thursday to a call from a girl who reported that her father and sister were in the water and hadn’t been seen for about 10 minutes, Simonson said. The Sheriff’s Office reported that the 911 caller said the two swimmers were in distress while in the water, and then couldn’t be located in the high waves.
“We commenced a search. The waves are really high, probably talking about six-, seven-foot waves, pretty difficult search conditions,” Simonson said.
The girl was brought to shore at about 5:20 p.m. and the man was brought to shore at about 6 p.m. Simonson said the man was in the water for about 90 minutes.
A police officer consoled another girl in the beach house’s parking lot as first responders stood along a stretch of the beach near a pile of the swimmers’ jeans, shirts and flip flops. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and fire department stood on top of the dunes scanning the water with binoculars as firefighters and St. Louis County sheriff’s deputies and Rescue Squad members scanned the roaring waves from the beach.
The fire department’s boat battled through waves higher than the boat and its occupants, while the Coast Guard’s boat searched back and forth farther out on the lake, later joined in the search by several St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office boats.
First responders ran down the beach as a firefighter pulled the girl to shore and firefighters gathered around her to start CPR. As she was carried to an ambulance on a stretcher, searchers turned again to the water to find the man. The fire department’s boat began circling an area where they believed the man was in the water and firefighters on shore prepared to go in the water to grab him. About 20 minutes later, he was pulled to shore, where CPR was started.
While searching for the man, a wave flipped the fire department’s boat over, sending two firefighters wearing survival suits into the water. The firefighters floated in the water next to their upside-down boat, trying to let the waves push them toward shore. A firefighter on shore tossed them a throw line, but they were able to walk into shore on their own. However, one of them needed assistance for the last few feet because his survival suit had filled with water — the water pouring out as he unzipped the suit on shore.
A red flag hung on the beach house’s flagpole for the red flag warning that the fire department had issued earlier Thursday. The red flag warning was for dangerous swimming conditions at Park Point due to the high risk of rip currents, and authorities had recommended that no one enter the water. There were no lifeguards on duty on Thursday.
“There’s a very powerful rip current right now, as we saw during the rescue effort. It was just really hard to deal with. That’s why we issue those warnings, but sometimes people aren’t aware of it and what’s going on,” Simonson said.