20-year-old missing swimmer at Lake Lanier found, sheriff's office says

Zachary Rutledge (Hall County Sheriff's Office)

A 20-year-old man from Winder, who was reported missing Monday night at Burton Mill Park on Lake Lanier, has been found safe. Zachary Rutledge was discovered by a Hall County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputy patrolling the park just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Rutledge, who had spent the night in the park, flagged down the deputy after a search operation was launched the previous evening. HCSO deputies were called to the park around 8:30 p.m. by Rutledge's friends, who lost track of him while they were swimming. Uncertain whether Rutledge was still in the water or had left the park on foot, authorities initiated a comprehensive search.

Both the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Hall County Fire Rescue conducted water searches, while the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) carried out aerial searches, all with negative results. The preliminary investigation revealed that Rutledge had swum from the shore to an island and later returned to find his friends had left. Without a phone to call for help, he spent the night in the park. He mentioned hearing the GSP helicopters but was unaware they were searching for him.

This incident, while fortunately ending well, highlights the importance of caution while swimming in Lake Lanier. Key safety tips include not swimming alone, maintaining clear communication with fellow swimmers, and keeping track of group members. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office expressed gratitude for Rutledge's safe return.