Off-duty officer risks his life to save a swimmer

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Credit: The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project

ALGER COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) – Officer Mark Zitnik insists 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, but they ended up in deep water with a strong current.

Zitnik dove from the moving vessel and when he got close the swimmer attempted 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 and was eventually able to swim the man back to the boat.

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

Meanwhile, boaters from a passing vessel 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.”

“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 advised.

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