Report details Lake Michigan diving accident in which Illinois couple died – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

July 7, 2019 - Comment

William Langhorne Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 3:46 PM EDT Jul 6, 2019 Authorities investigating the deaths of an Illinois couple in a diving accident in Lake Michigan in late June are still seeking clues to what exactly happened. But a report filed Friday by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office provided more details on the


Authorities investigating the deaths of an Illinois couple in a diving accident in Lake Michigan in late June are still seeking clues to what exactly happened.

But a report filed Friday by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office provided more details on the accident that killed James and Susan Winn of Kildeer, Illinois.

According to the report:

On June 28, the Winns, both 53, and two other divers hired a clipper from Double Action Diver Charter to explore the L.R. Doty, a wooden freighter that sank in 330 feet of water about 25 miles off the shore of South Milwaukee in 1899. 

Around 12:30 p.m., the captain, Robert M. Larson, tied the boat off on the wreckage and the Winns began their dives. 

Less than an hour later, Larson noticed Susan Winn floating face up in the water. She was unresponsive. After pulling her onto the boat, he connected her to a defibrillator and made a mayday call. 

A Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from Waukegan, Illinois, arrived on the scene around 2 p.m. A guardsman jumped out of the helicopter, swam to the dive boat and began CPR. Shortly afterward, a Coast Guard ship arrived from Milwaukee and transported Susan Winn to the Coast Guard Station. 

On land, a Flight For Life ground crew connected Winn to a CPR machine and tried to regulate her core temperature and glucose levels. Despite these efforts, Winn was pronounced dead at 3:16 p.m. 

Just before 4 p.m., Larson noticed that James Winn was missing. Larson began banging on the hull of his ship signaling an emergency to the other divers, which required them to ascend as soon as safely possible. The sound of the banging can easily be heard up to 300 feet below, but James did not surface with the others. 

An initial search by the Coast Guard was called off on June 29. On Monday, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office reported it had recovered James Winn’s body. It is still unclear why Susan Winn surfaced initially but James did not.

The two other divers from the charter boat told a sheriff’s detective that they did not see the Winns while exploring the wreck. 

The Winns were certified technical divers with years of experience. In order to charter the boat, they were required to bring their own equipment.

That day, the Winns each had four tanks containing a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen and helium. Keith Cormican, a certified diver familiar with this equipment, said that if a diver does not carefully monitor their dials while using the mixture, they can succumb to nitrogen narcosis, an intoxicating state that can lead to death. 

Although Susan Winn’s equipment was lost in the attempt to save her life, James’ dive computer and tanks will be analyzed by Cormican. The Coast Guard will send James  Winn’s rebreather to the Navy for investigation. 

James and Susan were each married once before and have six children between them.  

James Winn was an insurance agent for Allstate Insurance. Susan was an accountant for First Services, a real estate business.

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