Three saved from rip currents on Lake Superior off Duluth shore
Gary Gagnon said that if Josh Meltzer doesn't have a halo he'll buy him one. Meltzer, 38, a former News Tribune photographer and, more importantly on this day, a former captain of the Carleton College swim team, helped save Gagnon's wife, Erica, ...
Gary Gagnon said that if Josh Meltzer doesn't have a halo he'll buy him one.
Meltzer, 38, a former News Tribune photographer and, more importantly on this day, a former captain of the Carleton College swim team, helped save Gagnon's wife, Erica, a pre-teen girl and an 18-year-old woman from a rip current on Park Point on Monday morning.
"The more I heard the story, the more I kept double-checking to make sure I heard it right," Duluth police Sgt. David Greeman said of the rescue efforts of Meltzer and Robert Pokorney of Duluth. "I think the victims were fortunate that people were willing to risk their lives to save them. It probably prevented a tragedy today."
Greeman said that he checked Meltzer's chest to see if he had a big red Superman "S" there.
"He doesn't, but he's a very impressive young man, and Pokorney, too," the officer said.
Meltzer was on the beach with his family about 11 a.m., just off the 1200 block of Minnesota Avenue when he saw a young woman who was sunbathing suddenly bolt up and sprint toward Lake Superior.
That woman, who police identified as 18-year-old Lauren Timm of Blaine, Minn., had apparently seen Erica Gagnon and a young girl in distress when she was overcome by the rip current. She yelled for help.
Meltzer said the wind and waves made it hard to hear, but he could tell the woman was in trouble and the good Samaritan went after her.
"The girl was having trouble swimming," he said. "She couldn't make it out there. We were basically in the rip current. I grabbed her and brought her back and immediately turned around and went back out. There was an adult and a 10- to 12-year-old girl. The girl was going under. She didn't have the strength to stay above water and whenever a wave came she just went under."
Meltzer, 6 foot 1, 175 pounds, said he couldn't take both Gagnon and the girl back at the same time and there was no way they were bringing themselves back. When he reached for one they both tried to jump on him, a classic response of a drowning person. He talked to Gagnon about trying to relax and float.
"I grabbed the girl because she was in much worse shape and she was close to me," he said. "I told the woman to just lay on her back and float. Some people have trouble floating and can't relax. They're beyond the point where they can follow instructions. These two were listening and both laid on their back. That's what saved the adult -- she was able to wait."
Gary Gagnon said his wife told him how reassuring her rescuer was. "She said he kept saying, 'It's all right. It's all right.' The only thing she remembers is that he was beyond positive," he said.
Pokorney, 34, of Duluth, showed up as Meltzer was bringing the girl in and he went after Gagnon. He brought her most of the way in until Meltzer came back out and provided a floatation device to put on the woman.
"The rip today was unusual," said Pokorney, who's a surfer and knows the beach well. "It was much stronger than I've seen in a long time. She (Gagnon) was really exhausted. She was under water and above water. She was hanging on."
Duluth police and firefighters and St. Louis County sheriff's deputies were on the scene when the last of the three people was brought ashore. Gagnon was the only person who required an ambulance. She was treated and released from the hospital.
"This is Lake Superior. We can't fence it off. This is not the first time this has happened," said St. Louis County Undersheriff David Phillips. "People greatly underestimate what billions of gallons of moving water can do. Go there to have a fun time, but wow, please, please use caution. Please do not underestimate this is one of the world's largest freshwater bodies. Please do not underestimate its power."
Meltzer teaches photojournalism at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. He returned to the area to celebrate July 4th. His wife, Melissa Warp, is from Moose Lake. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Gus. He said Gus has already taken a six-week-long infant survival swimming class.