Madison: Giant Lake Erie wave was like a tsunami

6:45 PM, Jun 1, 2012   |    comments
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MADISON -- A sudden wave that swept several people off the beach on Sunday, was likely an edge wave, or seiche. The National Weather Service confirms the rare event which almost took the lives of three Lake County teenagers.

"It came up on us so fast we didn't have time to react," said Connor Bachmann, 15, of Madison, who was standing on the beach with a number of other people Sunday evening about 6 o'clock.

"It started pulling on us and when I turned my back it completely covered us and started pulling us out." Bachman, Molly McGill, and Rachel Pridemore were swept out almost half a mile onto the lake, almost instantly.

"I'm a strong swimmer and I never felt that helpless in my life," Bachmann admitted. "I thought I was going to die."

Jim Channell of Kirtland Hills witnessed the whole thing. He just happened to be on his jet ski, heading for shore, when he saw the seiche crash onto the beach.

"It took out the whole beach," he told WKYC, with amazement still in voice. "I didn't believe what I was seeing. Then it hit a second time."

Channell was about to come into the beach to help when he heard people yelling that three youngsters had been sucked out into the lake by the rouge wave. He turned the jet ski around, and headed out.

"I saw a hand in the water, then a head, and I reached down the pulled the boy up on the jet ski," Channell recounted, "and then saw two more heads bobbing."

The rescuer who said he "was the only person out there with a jet ski," maneuvered toward the girls and had each one hang on to one of the skis on the side of his craft. "It was an act of God that I brought that jet ski out on Sunday," he said. "There was a reason."

Some on the beach estimated the edge wave, or seiche, at seven feet. The National Weather Service, which is looking for eyewitness accounts of Sunday's phenomenon, says edge waves of 10 feet in height have been reported on Lake Erie.

On May 31, 1942, a seiche estimated as high as 15 to 20 feet tall pummeled the area around Mentor-on-the-Lake, killing 8 people and injuring a dozen more. It became known as the Lake Erie Tidal Wave.

In 1882, a similar wave about 8 feet in height, crashed into miles of shoreline both east and west of Cleveland. It is said to have gone far enough ashore to put out the fires in steel mills.

"Ive been around Lake County almost all my life and I've never heard of seiche," said Madison Fire District Chief Gene Lutz, Jr., who rushed to the scene with his paramedics after someone called in the emergency.

"We checked out the kids and made sure they were all right. I'm sure if the man with the jet ski had not been there, this incident would have had a different ending."

Connor Bachmann thought the same thingm, and remembered getting so tired in the water fighting the wave, "For a minute I thought I was not going to make it."

Bachmann said when the jet ski got close to shore and Channell told them to jump off so they didn't get hit by the ski, "I was so fatigued I couldn't even jump off.  I just fell off."

"I don't look at myself as a hero," Channell, the father of a 5-year-old daughter said. "I just did what any parent would have done."

WKYC-TV

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