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'Not the lake it used to be'
Officials stress safety in wake of teen's drowning on Lanier
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Forsyth County News
Authorities are urging Lake Lanier visitors to use extra caution after a Duluth teenager drowned Friday near Little Ridge Park in eastern Forsyth County.
The body of Ariel Cotuc Chaudjay, 17, was recovered by divers in 10 feet of water, about 45 feet from the shore, authorities said.
A native of Guatemala, Chaudjay was at the lake with several friends who told sheriff's deputies the teenager knew how to swim.
Authorities said the victim waded out into the water ahead of his friends, who thought he was waving.
"Lake Lanier is not the lake it used to be," said Forsyth County Fire Capt. Shivers. "Due to the drought and extremely low level of Lake Lanier, severe drop-offs in the underwater terrain that were once 40 to 50 feet from shore are now 5 to 10 feet from shore."
Falling into an unexpected pit creates a hazard, regardless of whether one can swim.
"Even to an experienced swimmer, the surprise of stepping into an abyss can be deadly," Shivers said.
The natural reaction to a steep drop, he said, is to gasp.
The drowning cast a pall over an otherwise festive start to the long Fourth of July holiday weekend on the lake. It was the third drowning of the year in Lanier, but the first on the Forsyth County side.
In late May, a Gwinnett County man drowned off Van Pugh Park in Hall County. He was in about 10 feet of water 20 feet from the shore.
The body of 46-year-old Ellenwood man was recovered in early June, about a month after he fell from a personal watercraft and went under near a fueling dock at Aqualand Marina near Flowery Branch.
In addition, a 45-year-old McDonough man was found dead earlier this week on a boat near the service dock at Holiday Marina.
Authorities have said they believe the man was a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. Foul play is not suspected.
Last year, nine people drowned in the lake -- one over the Fourth of July holiday period at Buford Dam Park -- and two others were killed in boating accidents.
In Friday's incident, it took divers with the local fire department about 12 minutes to find Chaudjay.
The body was recovered about 3:04 p.m. in the same area of the lake that the divers practice swimming drills.
Karleen Chalker, a spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, said neither alcohol nor foul play was involved.
Ernest Noe, a park ranger, reminded lake-goers to take precautions.
"Don't go beyond your limits and don't drink," Noe said. "Make sure you stay in eyeshot of other people."
Shivers, standing on the shore near the rescue staging area, pointed out to the blue-green water.
"See how that innocent that looks," he said. "All of those severe drop-offs are now in the main area where you'll be walking."