Man rescued from icy Lake Michigan emerges from anonymity to publicly thank police officers

By Monica Bielanko, AccuWeather senior producer
April 14, 2019, 6:00:42 AM EDT

Eric Gale jumped into an icy Lake Michigan on a freezing day back on Jan. 27 to save his dog's life. The temperature in the Windy City that day topped out at a punishing 10 degrees Fahrenheit ahead of an invasion of Arctic air brought down by the polar vortex. Then it was Gale's life that needed saving from the 34-degree water.

After losing his beloved dog, Bowser, Gale adopted 9-month-old Pika and decided that for his first walk he'd take Pika on the same walk near Foster Beach he used to take Bowser. As Gale wrote in an anonymous letter that the Chicago Police Department published along with the bodycam video of his rescue, "He was very excited and got away from me, ran down to the beach, and then to the edge of the large ice ridges that form during cold winters. I saw him disappear over the ridge. I ran up and looked down six feet to see him paddling in freezing cold water. He is a 19-pound dog and I knew that he would soon die from cold or drowning. I jumped in after him."

Gale lifted the terrified dog onto his shoulders and tried to climb out of the frigid lake, but the icy wall was too high and slippery for him to scale.

"Ice walls that rose two feet above my head stretched across the entire shore, trapping us in the water. I looked for a possible exit but could not find one... The ice walls were bulbous and smooth with no ridge I could place a foot on. I realized I would not be able to get myself out."

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The choppy, windswept water rose to Gale's neck. He panicked and held Pika over his head despite his hands feeling "numb and flipper-like."

Luckily, a passerby had seen Gale jump in after his dog and called 911. Help in the form of six Chicago police officers was already on the way. Video from an officer's bodycam shows Gale, petrified, flailing around in the icy water as his body began shutting down.

Lake Michigan rescue

Body cam footage showed Chicago police officers pull Eric Gale from the icy waters of Lake Michigan on January 27, 2019. (Chicago Police Department)

The officers hauled Gale and Pika out of the water and got them to the hospital in the nick of time. "They allowed Pika to stay with me under the warming blanket in the ER. My core body temperature had dropped to 93 degrees," Gale wrote.

The normal body temperature for humans hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahreneit. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothermia can begin to set in when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees. When it drops below 91 degrees, people develop amnesia and can become irrational, Christopher Minson, an environmental physiologist at the University of Oregon, Eugene, told . At around 85 degrees, people begin to lose consciousness.


Gale came forward publicly this week when the five Chicago police officers and a sergeant were honored. Officers Adam Ocampo and Brian Richards, field training officers Andrew Larson and Miguel Del Toro, probationary police officer Eithan Ferman and Sgt. Alejandro Silva were named the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s Officers of the Month for April for rescuing Gale and Pika.

"I have no doubt that I would have died without help, I am forever grateful to them... It's these men and women who are in the city, you don't see them every day, but when you need help they're there instantly, and I'm grateful to them personally and to the institution as a whole."

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