Off-duty officer risks his life to save a swimmer in Lake Superior

U.S. & World

Credit: The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project

ALGER COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) – Officer Mark Zitnik insisted he was just doing his job when he heard someone yell, “Help!”

Zitnik and his family were enjoying a Saturday afternoon, July 25, boating on Munising Bay in Alger County.

As they navigated around a sandbar off Sand Point Beach the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer heard a cry for help.

The swimmers had been wading in shallow water covering a sandbar, and they ended up in deep water with a strong current.

Zitnik dove from the moving boat and when he got close to the swimmer tried to climb on top of Zitnik saying, “I can’t swim. Save me. Help me.”

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With his chest against the swimmer’s back, Zitnik wrapped his arm around the man’s chest to use a water rescue hold he learned during training, but it caused the swimmer to panic.

Zitnik identified himself as a conservation officer and rescue swimmer in an attempt to calm the man. Eventually he was able to swim the man back to the boat.

Once the swimmer caught his breath, he thanked Zitnik, saying, “You saved my life, man.”

Boaters in the area assisted the second swimmer, who was able to help himself onto that boat.

Both swimmers were transported safely back to shore where they reunited with their family and friends.

“A conservation officer is never truly off-duty,” said DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. “Without hesitating, he risked his life while with his own family to save these two men.”

Hagler also discussed the importance of knowing where in the water you are going to swim and take a few minutes to get some information.

“If you don’t know the water you’re swimming in, ask locals about the conditions before you leave shore and always wear a life jacket or flotation device while boating, kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding,” Hagler said.

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