WHITEFISH BAY, Wis. - Multiple agencies rescued two people late Sunday night after a caller said they were stranded on paddleboards "somewhere on Lake Michigan."
Shortly after 10 p.m., the Bayside Communications Center received a 911 call from a woman who reported she and a friend were stranded on paddleboards somewhere on Lake Michigan. The victims reported that one of them had lost their paddle and they were continuously being pulled back out from shore despite their attempts to paddle in.
Based on the cell phone "ping," the dispatcher determined their location to be near Buckley/Big Bay Park off Lake Drive in Whitefish Bay. Teams from the North Shore Fire/Rescue and the Milwaukee Fire Department aided in the water rescue.
Whitefish Bay police were sent to the scene simultaneously to assist with locating the individuals. The dispatcher remained in phone contact with one of the two individuals as much as possible; however, the cell service was spotty, and the connection was extremely unreliable. Attempts were made to get the individuals to identify any landmarks or to "call out", however both were unsuccessful. Numerous resources from the United States Coast Guard and the Milwaukee Fire Department were also sent on the initial dispatch to respond via the waters of Lake Michigan.
The individuals identified that they could see fire and law enforcement search lights from the shore and the dispatcher requested that the subjects utilize their phone flashlights to assist public safety personnel in identifying their location.
A drone was requested from the Glendale Police Department and their officers were dispatched to the scene. Shortly after the arrival of the drone, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) device from the Whitefish Bay Police Department was able to spot what they believed to be a potential light from one of the stranded paddleboarders’ cell phones.
About that same time, the Glendale drone was able to get a visual and hover over the location of the victims. Coordinates for the drone were provided to the boats on the water.
A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boat containing two Wardens happened to also be in the area and heard the initial dispatch on a local law-enforcement radiofrequency. The DNR boat along with the Milwaukee Fire Department’s Boat (Trident) was able to use the coordinates and the visual of the drone to make the rescue on the water.
Ultimately, the DNR boat brought the stranded individuals close to shore where they were met by North Shore Fire/Rescue EMS personnel.
Neither of the stranded paddleboarders was injured and they declined a medical evaluation. Neither of the individuals had a personal floatation device on or available when they were rescued.
The technology available via the City of Glendale Police Department’s drone was pivotal in being able to quickly identify the exact location and provide a continuous visual in complete darkness even though the subjects were more than a quarter-mile offshore.