A Benton Harbor woman had a close call Monday night when she fell off of a pier while texting on her cell phone.
Bonnie Millier, 45, was walking along the south pier near Silver Beach when she fell into the St. Joseph River. Her husband and a bystander jumped into the water to rescue her.
“We heard this boy yell mom and that's when I knew something was going on,” said Becky Van Zant, who attempted to get Miller back to the pier.
The call was made to authorities as both Miller’s husband and Van Zant held on to Miller and treaded the cold water.
“Since I’ve been here I haven’t heard of anyone that’s texting and walks off the pier, that is a new one for me,” said Matthew Binns of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The incident happened at around 9:30 p.m. out on the pier, where there is limited lighting.
“It was dark too, that was a big factor,” Van Zant said. “So, you're looking down at your phone you can’t see what is in front of you.”
One misstep left Miller in a dangerous situation.
“I just got nervous for her,” Van Zant said. “I didn’t think about it, I just jumped in and I swam to her and got her. I swam her over to the wall.”
The temperature of the water added another obstacle to the rescue.
“The water is going to rob your body of heat and cause hypothermia faster,” Binns said. “It is kind of like a stabbing sensation because the water is so cold.”
While the temperature may be in the 70's on the beach, the temperature in the water is about 45 degrees. That kind of water temperature can make treading water difficult for even an experienced swimmer.
But, Van Zant said the only thing on her mind was doing what she could to help.
“I didn’t feel the water temperature at all,” she said. “Adrenaline was going and I just didn’t want anybody drowning. That is what was going through my head -- nobody is drowning.”
Eventually, police were able to get Van Zant, Miller and Miller's husband out of the water.
And while the three made it back to dry land, the incident serves as an important reminder as more and more people head beach-side.
“If you’re walking on one of our piers, they are very uneven,” Binns said. “Make sure you understand where you are walking so you don’t end up in the water.”
Binns also said you should not jump into the water if you see someone drowning. Instead, you should use some kind of long stick or rope to try to reach them and bring them back to shore. The main message is that they rather rescue one person instead of two.