Search continues for missing swimmer

Rahem Mason

MICHIGAN CITY – Searchers got a break from the weather Tuesday as they continued looking for a 17-year-old South Bend boy missing since Saturday in Lake Michigan off Washington Park.

Rough water and high waves hindered divers on Sunday and Monday in the search for Rahem Mason. And though a U.S. Coast Guard boat, a Michigan City Fire Department drone and watchers along the shore and in a helicopter have been used for three days, the teen had not been found as of late Tuesday evening.

La Porte County Coroner Bob Cutler said at one point Tuesday, his office was notified that searchers may have found a body in the lake, but it turned out to be nothing but a blanket.

He said the "aggressive search" was ongoing.

Witnesses saw Mason, who was swimming, disappear beneath the waves and not resurface at around 7:07 p.m. Saturday, according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer Tyler Brock.

Divers from the Michigan City Police Department, La Porte County Sheriffs Department, Michigan City Fire Department, and IDNR Conservation officers met Monday morning and determined conditions remained unsafe to conduct dive operations due to five-foot waves in the Washington Park area.

Waves crashed over the breakwall as members of the various departments walked the lighthouse pier to visually search the area near the pier, and the Fire Department launched a UAV (drone) to search the area from the air, Brock said.

Conservation officers had also planned a sonar search by boat Monday afternoon, but lake conditions made that impossible as well. But divers and the boat were back in the water Tuesday morning, he said.

Mason, the youngest of eight children in his family, was to be a junior at South Bend Washington High School this fall. He was at the beach with a group from his church, according to family members.

After he was reported missing, firefighters arrived and began to manually search the water, Brock said. But high waves and strong currents prevented a search by scuba divers.

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel also responded and searched the area, while the Coast Guard helicopter conducted an air search.

"The incident occurred after normal swimming hours and the water had been closed to swimming throughout the day due to dangerous waves and currents," he said.

The National Weather Service had issued a Beach Hazard Advisory because of winds that were causing high waves and possible rip currents. That advisory remained in effect until Sunday evening, with waves of 3-5 feet, dangerous swimming conditions, and strong structural and rip currents.

Winds diminished late Monday and remained calm on Tuesday.

As of last week, there had been 13 drownings in Lake Michigan in 2019, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, including two in Indiana.

On Feb. 11, Scott Tharp, 59, of Gary died of accidental drowning. A fisherman found Tharp’s body four days later in a public fishing area at the Port of Indiana near Burns Harbor, a Coast Guard crew near the port recovered the body.

And on May 18, 23-year-old Jacob Sandy of Michigan was seen kayaking off Porter Beach. His body was discovered 11 days later by an Indiana Dunes National Park employee about a quarter-mile east of Porter Beach on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Last year there were 43 drownings in Lake Michigan, including two in Michigan City, according to the GLSRP.

—From staff reports

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