Bystander saves teen in near drowning along Otter Tail Lake

Police responded to a near drowning near the County Highway 72 dam on the evening of Sunday, July 25, the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office said in a press release.

Cooper Hinrichs, 34, of Lidgerwood, N.D. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

A North Dakota man was able to help pull a teen to safety and prevent a possible drowning on the evening of Sunday, July 25, along Otter Tail Lake.

Police responded to the near drowning close to the Zorbaz restaurant at a bridge by the Otter Tail County Highway 72 dam, according to a press release from the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office.

However, before the police were able to arrive, Cooper Hinrichs, 34, of Lidgerwood, N.D., was on a dock relaxing during his vacation when he saw a girl, who'd just exited the water. The 14-year-old girl called for help, saying she'd almost drowned. At first, he didn't think anything of it since she was no longer in the water, but then, he saw a boy who was still stuck in the bridge's bypass culvert.

The girl had gotten stuck into the bypass first, but the 15-year-old boy was able to help her out before getting stuck himself. The girl was pushed out by the water, but the boy remained stuck and couldn't keep his head above water. The boy, whose legs were stuck, was calling out for help to some people fishing near him in the water, but they didn't know what to do.


Hinrichs was sitting on this dock when he saw the kids struggling in the water. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Hinrichs, who'd seen this all, said he didn't even think. He walked up the river, got underneath the bridge, made sure he could get to the boy without risk and grabbed ahold of him.

"I just saw that he needed help," Hinrichs said. "If I was in the same situation, I would've wanted someone to help me."

Hinrichs was able to pull the boy out of the bypass, likely saving his life. The two teenagers suffered minor scrapes and bruises. The teens were not identified by the sheriff's office; but the girl was from California and the boy was from Minnesota.

At first, Hinrichs was reluctant to speak with media because he doesn't like the spotlight. For him, the recognition feels strange.

"I didn't think about what was going to happen after (I saved him)," Hinrichs said. "I just knew in the moment that he needed help, so I just went for it."


The two kids got stuck in the bypass of this bridge. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office asked the public not to swim by dams and spillways and to use extreme caution when on or in the water due to low water levels. The Otter Tail Water Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Battle Lake Police Department and Battle Lake Fire and Rescue also responded to the near drowning.

Hinrichs wants people to be aware of where they're swimming and the dangers that can't be seen. The boy and girl told him they'd both been swimming most of their lives, but they didn't realize, that with the water so low, there would be an undercurrent. They're experience swimmers, but they weren't expecting the danger.

"If it happened today, I would go over there and do it again," Hinrichs said.

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