‘The Tide Just Pulled Him Under’
By Howard Schwach
Reynolds Channel, an inlet whose strong rip currents roar out of Nassau County twice a day has claimed another victim to go with the three it claimed last summer.
Harold Dickerson, a 69-year-old St. Alban’s grandfather, was spending the day at Beach 17 Street last Saturday. Known for his strong swimming, Dickerson drowned moments after pulling his son-in-law from a powerful riptide as his family watched in horror.
The incident took place at 6:45 p.m., 45 minutes after the lifeguards had gone off duty for the day.
During the last week, police and civilian rescuers pulled three swimmers from the ocean when the swimmers were overcome by strong tides. All of them were swimming after the lifeguards had gone off duty for the day.
According to Dickerson’s wife, who spoke with reporters shortly after the drowning, the victim and his brother-in-law, Craig Stevens, waded into the surf while his wife, daughter and grandson looked on.
"Stevens, who was not a strong swimmer, according to the victim’s wife, was pulled from shore by a raging tide. Dickerson pulled him from the surf, but somehow got pulled into the tide and disappeared under the water.
"I don’t know if he had a heart attack or a cramp," his wife told reporters. "We couldn’t see him. The tide just pulled him under."
Police SCUBA divers responded quickly, but a search by the NYPD, FDNY and Coast Guard was not successful. The search continued throughout Sunday and Monday. By Tuesday, NYPD helicopters moved along the beachfront, looking for Dickerson’s body in the surf.
His body had still not been recovered by Thursday.
Dickerson is only the latest victim of the notorious stretch of public beach known for its strong currents and sudden drop-offs.
Late last July, two sisters and a cousin were swept away from the surf at Beach 17 Street early in the morning, prior to the lifeguards coming on duty.
Those drownings prompted a large lawsuit against the city and the posting of new, larger signs in several languages warning prospective swimmers not to enter the water when lifeguards are not on duty.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says that the Parks Department has no intention of closing that dangerous stretch of beach.
"It’s perfectly safe during the day when people follow the rules," he said. "There’s nothing more we can reasonably do to keep people from endangering themselves."