TRAVERSE CITY — Conflicting accounts of efforts to save a drowning student emerged as classmates mourn Traverse City West Senior High School junior Owen Williamson.
Williamson, 17, and about 10 others stopped at the Twin Lakes Park off Long Lake Road on May 31 around 4 p.m. for a quick dip before a graduation party.
The majority of the group swam from the main beach to another beach area, but Williamson and two other boys who were not strong swimmers stayed behind in the water where they could stand.
Emma Winowiecki, who graduated from West this week, and the other swimmers walked back to Williamson’s location along a trail when they heard a friend exclaim that Williamson had disappeared.
“At first, as they were yelling before (rescue workers) were there, I knew I couldn’t do anything,” Winowiecki said. “It was just kind of all a blur, but the second the (rescue workers) came I snapped into action.”
Another student swam out and found Williamson submerged in water about 20 to 30 feet offshore, where the lake bottom steeply drops off. She managed to pull him to the surface, and then received help from other members of the high school group who tread water as they held Williamson.
Emergency responders gave one student a life jacket to swim out and strap to Williamson. Rescue workers also had Winowiecki and another person swim out with an inflatable raft, Winowiecki said.
“I just know we were very scared when we were doing it,” she said. “More of us could have gone under. We don’t know how to save people. We were all in shock.”
Winowiecki and another person lifted the unconscious Williamson’s torso and arms onto the inflatable raft. Rescuers pulled the raft in by a rope and administered CPR as soon as he was ashore. But it was too late.