'It could have been prevented': Rockaway drownings prompt scrutiny of unsupervised beaches

‘It could have been prevented’: Rockaway drownings prompt scrutiny of unsupervised beaches

The calls got here inside 20 minutes of each other on Friday night: two younger individuals, swimming individually on a preferred stretch of Rockaway Seaside, swept out to sea by the uneven surf.

The FDNY responded first, witnesses mentioned, as beach-goers directed them to the spot close to a rock jetty, the place they believed one swimmer had gone below. Dozens of lifeguards sprinted over a couple of minutes later.

After a short search, rescuers found the physique of a 16-year-old lady on Seaside 108th Road. One other male, believed to be round 18, was found at Seaside 98th Road, authorities mentioned.

Each people — whose names have not but been launched — have been pronounced lifeless at space hospitals. Earlier than 7 p.m., three different distressed swimmers have been rescued. All three have been hospitalized, however are anticipated to outlive, officers mentioned. 

The string of incidents evoked grief and anger amongst lifeguards and native residents, many of whom solid blame on a determination by town to not workers lifeguards on one of essentially the most heavily-trafficked stretches of Rockaway Seaside. 

“It’s unbelievably devastating because it could have been prevented,” mentioned Helen Kilgallen, a Rockaway resident, who mentioned she referred to as 911 after watching a gaggle of youngsters swimming close to a rock jetty at Seaside 108th Road. “If there was anybody on duty, they never would’ve let them near those rocks.”

Final month, the Parks Division, which oversees metropolis lifeguards, introduced a ban on swimming between Seaside 86th Road and Seaside 116th Road by means of mid-July, in consequence of a federal resiliency mission to construct out extra jetties. Whereas water entry is formally off limits, town has saved most of the shoreline open to the general public. 

A number of lifeguards advised Gothamist on the time that the association was a recipe for catastrophe, noting that folks would inevitably enterprise into the water unsupervised. For some, the deaths on Friday night time have been seen as a grim affirmation of these fears.  

“We knew it was inevitable,” mentioned Janet Fash, a longtime chief lifeguard on Rockaway Seaside. “When they’re closing beaches that would be open and not providing lifeguards, it really puts the public at risk.”

A spokesperson for the Parks Division, Crystal Howard, disputed that narrative, writing in an electronic mail that the drownings had occurred after 6 p.m., when metropolis lifeguards finish their shifts.

“Conflating these horrible after-hours incidences with any other issue is just wrong and ill-informed,” Howard mentioned.

However in accordance with the FDNY, the decision for the primary sufferer, the 16-year-old lady on Seaside 108th Road, got here at 5:58 p.m, when a lifeguard would usually be on responsibility. They obtained a second name of an individual drowning at 6:19 p.m. The three different non-fatal incidents have been reported between Seaside 86th and Seaside 87th Road between 6:30 p.m. and seven p.m. 

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