Man feared drowned found safe at Lake Lanier

In a happy twist to an alarming story that broke Monday night, authorities say a Winder man who disappeared while swimming with friends at Lake Lanier has been found safe.

20-year-old Zachary Rutledge was reported missing on July 8 at Burton Mill Park. On Tuesday morning, he flagged down a Hall County deputy patrolling the park and said he had spent the night there.

Rutledge’s friends called Hall County deputies to the park around 8:30 p.m. Monday after they lost track of him while swimming. At the time, they were unsure if he was in the water or had left the park on foot.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Hall County Fire Rescue conducted water searches. The Georgia State Patrol conducted aerial searches that came up empty.

“The preliminary investigation indicates Mr. Rutledge swam from the shore at the park to an island. He later swam back to the park and determined his friends had left him,” says HCSO Public Information Officer B.J. Williams.

She says Rutledge did not have a phone, so he was unable to call for help. Although he heard the helicopters overhead, Williams says Rutledge reported he did not realize they were looking for him.

While this incident had a positive outcome, Williams says it serves as a “good reminder to be cautious while swimming in Lake Lanier.” Authorities encourage lake visitors to never swim alone, to communicate clearly with fellow swimmers, and to keep track of members in their group.

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