Lifesaving Service

Rescue on Lake Michigan

Ingar Olsen

In 1893, Surfman Ingar Olsen of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in Milwaukee performed one of the most daring rescues in Lake Michigan history.

Ingar Olsen, a 22-year-old surfman with the Milwaukee station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, was never able to explain his actions on April 20, 1893. With near-hurricane winds whipping a bitterly cold Lake Michigan into towering, violently churning waves, Olsen’s crew struggled through the storm in an open rowboat to reach a lone man, unconscious, near death, and clinging to wreckage 3,000 feet off Bradford Beach.

Olsen said, “As we finally maneuvered into position, I unconsciously dropped my oar, picked my way between the other men in the boat … and made a dive. No command had been given and weeks later, when I was asked to explain how I happened to do what I did at the time, I was unable to give any explanation … it was just as though an unseen hand was guiding my actions.”

Against incredible odds, Olsen was about to make one of the most dramatic rescues in Lake Michigan history.
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