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Lake Michigan was deadliest Great Lake last year

Mikey McGrath makes his way through the waters of Lake Michigan to assist another lifeguard in a mock drowning at Whihala Beach in 2015. Great Lakes drownings rose 76 percent last year.

Lake Michigan claimed 46 lives last year, making it the deadliest of the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project said Lake Michigan drownings nearly doubled last year, up from 25 in 2015. That estimate doesn't include six people who had drowning accidents in Lake Michigan and were last listed in critical condition.

Lake Michigan accounted for nearly half of the 98 drownings in the Great Lakes last year, a 78 percent increase over 2015. Lake Eerie had the second most drownings with 18, followed by Lake Ontario with 13.

“Water safety and drowning survival is not common sense," GLSRP executive director Dave Benjamin said. "It’s a silent epidemic that gets very little proactive funding or attention.”

The nonprofit organization, which aims to save lives, has tracked 536 drownings on the Great Lakes since 2010.  

To prevent more tragedies, it has scheduled 19 water safety presentations at nine Michigan City schools this week, which the steelmaker ArcelorMittal is sponsoring.

“Water safety is extremely important in our area,” said Amy Hammon, Curriculum Coach at Barker Middle School. “Students do not realize the dangers of Lake Michigan. Our school has had two tragedies this past summer. It's time to infuse pier and water safety into our curriculum each year and turn the tragedies into something positive and meaningful that will save lives.”

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project will do the presentations at Michigan City High School and various elementary schools. The hope is to drill in the knowledge of what to do if drowning, such as how everyone knows to "Stop, Drop and Roll" if they catch on fire, Benjamin said.

“Unfortunately we know that the big picture of drowning continues to be a neglected public health issue and we know that it needs to be part of the school curriculum and addressed year round,” Benjamin said. 

To survive drowning, the group recommends to “Flip, Float, and Follow."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.