CHICAGO — Chicago police released bodycam video that shows the dramatic rescue of a man who fell into freezing Lake Michigan by five officers who created a “human chain.”
On Sunday, the officers grabbed onto each other’s belts to rescue the 33-year-old man who had gone into the water to save his dog near Foster Beach.
“We didn’t talk about it, we just kind of did it,” said CPD Sgt. Alex Silva during a Monday press conference.
A witness called 911 at about 1 p.m. saying that she thought someone was in the water. The man was able to rescue the dog — a 19-pound American Eskimo mix puppy named Pika — but it was more tricky for the man to get out as the shore wall was covered in ice.
“He was standing in water up to about chest high, but he was numb,” Silva said. “He couldn’t hold anything. He couldn’t climb out. There was no way to climb out. It was sheer ice. We actually, if you watch the video, we’re falling, just trying to get to the edge near the water. He could not have gotten out on his own.”
They crawled on their knees, then up over the ice ridge as 34-degree water splashed up against them.
“The challenging part of this was we were getting hit by waves. So I understand why he couldn’t get out by himself,” said Officer Brian Richards. “It was more slippery than just simple ice, it was constantly getting him by waves.”
The witness who called police gave the officers a leash. They threw it to the man who was able to grab it and hold on to be pulled out.
The man was taken to Weiss Memorial Hospital. His was treated and released, police said Monday.
The dog — which had its fur frozen when it was pulled from the water — is also in good condition, police said.
The man said it was the dog’s first time at the beach. The dog got away from his owner and ran beyond the ice shelf when it fell into the water.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, released a statement Monday afternoon:
“I first want to extend my gratitude the Chicago Police officers and first responders who came to my aid. They absolutely saved my life and I will be forever grateful to them. I took my recently adopted dog, Pika, to Lincoln Park by Foster beach Saturday afternoon. I’ve been visiting that beach and park in all weathers for years with my recently deceased dog, Bowser. This was Pika’s first visit to the park, he is a 9 month old American Eskimo mix.
He was very excited and got away from me, ran down to the beach, and then to the edge of the large ice ridges that form during cold winters. I saw him disappear over the ridge. I ran up and looked down six feet to see him paddling in freezing cold water. He is a 19 pound dog and I knew that he would soon die from cold or drowning. I jumped in after him. The water was only to my waist and I lifted him onto my shoulder.
Ice walls that rose two feet above my head stretched across the entire shore, trapping us in the water. I looked for a possible exit but could not find one. I trudged through the icy water for maybe 20 feet and came upon a portion of the ice wall that was lower. From where I stood in the water it was the height of my head. I placed Pika above me on the ice and tried to climb out.
The ice walls were bulbous and smooth with no ridge I could place a foot on. I realized I would not be able to get myself out. My hands were numb and flipper-like at this point. It took me about 20 tries to get my phone out of my pocket. Thankfully, it was water resistant and I was able to call 911. Unbeknownst to me, a passerby had seen me jump in and alerted nearby police officers who heroically pulled me out with the passerby’s dog leash.
I have no doubt that I would have died without help, I am forever grateful to them. The first responders treated me and my dog in the ambulance and the emergency room. They allowed Pika to stay with me under the warming blanket in the ER. My core body temperature had dropped to 93 degrees. Pika and I are both fully recovered and in debt to our gracious and heroic first responders.
This incident happened at Foster beach, but I’m sure the conditions at nearby Montrose dog beach are the same and I would caution all dog owners to keep their dogs away from the lake in these conditions. I’ve seen many ice formations in my nearly 7 years of visiting these beaches in the winter, but these ice walls are the tallest and most shear I’ve ever seen. There is a terrible danger of a dog falling behind these ice walls. Please stay away until they have melted.”