PEORIA, AZ — Boating on Lake Pleasant is marked on Michelle McRae’s calendar twice a year. They rent a pontoon and always pack a picnic for her grandchildren. But the first thing on board is always a life vest.
“We don’t mess around with life vests. We always wear them,” McRae says.
The same goes for Peoria Fire Medical. Each member of their department is a trained rescue swimmer, firefighter, and boat operator.
In the past six weeks, five people have died on Lake Pleasant and an additional person is still being searched for after going under the water Saturday and not resurfacing.
- April 24, 2022: 20-year-old Neria Aranbayev drowns at Lake Pleasant
- May 2, 2022: Body recovered at Lake Pleasant after searching for a man who went underwater.
- May 8, 2022: 83-year-old Rosario Benitez and several others were thrown from their boat due to waves at Lake Pleasant Sunday night. Benitez died from her injuries.
- May 18, 2022: Officials say the body of the 18-year-old man who went underwater at Lake Pleasant and didn't resurface was recovered Sunday evening.
- May 21, 2022: 32-year-old Tehanah Smith dies after suffering injury during boating accident at Lake Pleasant.
ABC15 asks, “Is this more than what you guys are seeing in years past?” Ben Smith, a firefighter with Peoria Fire and Medical replies, “Yeah there’s been an uptick in that for sure.”
The department says this season, the main cause of these deadly accidents are a lack of boating experience and life jackets.
“They feel like they’re excellent swimmers, and that’s easy to do when you’re in an eight-foot pool,” says Smith. “But when you’re in the lake and there’s nothing to push off of, it’s very easy to find yourself getting exhausted as you swim.”
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says there was just one deadly incident at Lake Pleasant in all of 2021 and three in 2020.
Peoria FD advises always staying away from boat propellers and keeping an orange flag up when swimmers are in the water.
Also, know where you are on the lake. Keep a map with you so in case of an emergency, you can help first responders get to you faster.
The fire department had additional staff at the lake this weekend because of the holiday.
“Usually, we have four people staffed here at the lake but because it’s a holiday weekend, we have an additional two, plus an ambulance,” says Smith.
MCSO also had their helicopter on standby at Lake Pleasant for the Memorial Day weekend.
And while your safety is always most important, officials are still recommending that you take care of your animals, too, including putting booties on your dogs.