Girl, mom rescued from channel

(FULL STORY) A girl, 4, was swept off Grand Haven's south pier and her mother jumped in to save her.
Becky Vargo
Jul 23, 2014


Holger Kuester and members of his extended family had just started to walk off Grand Haven’s south pier late Wednesday afternoon when they heard screams.

Kuester said he turned back just in time to see a wave wash over the pier and a little girl hit the water.

“Her mother went in right after her,” the Allendale man said.

The mother, whom officials did not identify, was with another adult and several children taking a stroll on the lower west end of the south pier shortly after 5 p.m.

“They had six little kids out there,” Kuester said incredulously, as the wind off the lake whipped the channel into a chop.

Keuster and his brother, Ulrich Kuester of Spring Lake, sprang into action by grabbing life rings from the pier stands. By then, the woman had grabbed ahold of her 4-year-old child, Holger said. But the first toss of the life-saving device fell short.

Holger said he could see the woman and child were quickly drifting away.

“Mentally, I just placed where I wanted it to go and I threw it,” he said. “It went right past them. It couldn’t have been placed any better.”

Holger said the woman was able to hang onto her child and grab the life ring. The men on the pier were able to pull the mother and daughter to a nearby ladder and lift them out of the choppy water.

“I went down the ladder and grabbed the little girl,” Holger said. “My brother grabbed her other arm, then we pulled out the mother. They weren’t hurt — they were just shaking and scared.”

The release of the life rings activated emergency signals at Ottawa County Central Dispatch. Dispatchers told responding officers that a ring had been thrown and people were replacing it on its holder.

Police met with the family on the pier and escorted the woman and her daughter to paramedics, who were responding on an ATV from the Fisherman’s Parking Lot at the base of the pier. Paramedics checked out the pair, but did not transport them to the hospital, Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said.

Hawke said the mother and daughter are from the east side of the state, but he did not have any more information about them.

Grand Haven State Park Officer Paul Vargo said the victims were about 100 feet in from the end of the pier when the girl was washed into the river.

State Park workers were the first officials on the scene, but the mother and daughter were already out of the water when they got there.

“It all worked like it was supposed to,” Vargo said of the life-saving actions and devices on the pier. “It wasn’t a tragedy.”

Vargo said strong winds out of the north-northwest led to a red flag warning at the park on Wednesday. He said that’s when it’s not safe to be on the pier.

“We’re getting waves smashing over the pier,” he said. “That’s what causes people to lose their footing. There’s a lot of power behind the water.”



What incredible actions on the part of the Kuester brothers! The mother and her little girl were very fortunate that there were quick-thinking people close by to save them from a possible tragedy. I see families with young children that are allowed to scamper ahead, small dogs on loose leashes, and groups of teenagers walking on and jumping off the pier in red-flag conditions all the time. I do not understand how people can be so casual about walking out on the pier during choppy, rough waters.


It's great to see this throwable life ring infrastructure work in the manner it did. Maritime Safety and Pier Safety are nothing to neglect on the Great Lakes! How tourists will ever be educated...I'll never know. I agree with Lanivan about teenagers jumping off the pier. This has been going on for decades. I'm so glad this family is OK. Great job Kuesters!

Tri-cities realist

If the big signs warning them of the dangers doesn't educate them, nothing will. Glad everyone made it home safely.


It's the same about a lot of things, you will never understand until it happens to you and I bet it will never happen to this family again. I'm so glad they are both saved. Glad to know the Kuester brothers are good people.


There really is no safe time for children of that age group (3-7) to be out on those piers. Of the the two children lost off the south pier and one off the north pier (ages 5, 6, 7) all were lost on perfectly calm days and simply fell in.

Baby strollers are at particular risk. In recent years we have had one baby stroller fatality and another very near fatality (submerged for 20 minutes) on Lake Michigan and one was fortunately caught by quick-thinking bystanders just as it was going over the side into the channel in 1996. The two recent incident were a matter of the wind catching the stroller sun scoop and blowing it off the piers. The earlier Grand Haven incident involved a wave washing the stroller off the south pier.

Strange that you can be charged for leaving an infant unattended in a car while you run into a convenience store to grab something, but you can take infants and small children out onto a very pedestrian unfriendly and dangerous government navigational structure never designed for pedestrian use.

Yes, we have warnings and signs, but it is all very confusing to our tourist visitors here when that Boardwalk leads directly out onto that south pier. It should instead lead out onto a beach walkway and overlook park. It will happen some day, but probably not in my lifetime. -doc


Everything you said is absolutely correct. I've scratched my head at the carelessness of people, mostly tourists, and their disrespect of the lake.

Glad that there were a couple quick thinking people there to make this a teachable moment instead of a recovery effort.


I tell you what, Jazz hands to the quick thinking Keuster brothers. Jazzy work fellas!

bob pratt

Great work!!!
Thanks to the Kuesters and to Vicki Cech from the Beach and Pier Safety Task Force.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children 1-4. It's the second leading cause in kids under 15. We teach pre-school kids to stop-drop and roll, by kindergarten they can all dial 9-1-1. We do nine fire drills, two defend in place and two tornado drills in every school every year. Drowning kills more kids than fire, lightening, tornadoes and school shooters COMBINED!! If we can do it for fire we can do it for drowning.
It's time we created a school curriculum focused on this pandemic.
Bob Pratt


Thanks CP.

This incident of the mother taking her children out on the pier under those conditions is only the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. There is a game of sorts out there where adults and kids deliberately try to get washed off and then scramble back upon the pier, often with parents cheering their kids on!

Four of the 11 wash off fatalities have occurred on the pier ends, 3 on the south and 1 on the north pier. The worst hazard here is the out current form the Grand River and hitting the pier while being washed, being injured, limiting the victim's ability to swim and/or tread water.

Wash offs account for 55% of the drownings off those piers. It is evenly split between swim offs and fall offs that account for the rest.

Fortunately that mother got to her child as soon as she did. Children in that age group usually go right down.


Heck of a job MOM!


Come on people, this woman should have been arrested, one count child endangerment, one charge stupidity.


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