Teen Drowns Despite Massive Rescue Effort
For a moment it was calm and then there was a huge swell. Not ocean water, rescue workers. Captain Paul Piekarski was already beginning a quick stride, radio in hand, when he emerged from the back of the 100 Precinct at about 5 p.m. last Thursday. Police Officer Robert Maloney, who was patrolling the boardwalk in the Beach 90s, was on the air – lifeguards had pulled two boys from the water and were looking for a third, a 17-year-old boy, but couldn’t find him, he radioed.
Piekarski briskly passed the desk officer and headed out through the narrow door on the west side of the precinct. There were so many officers behind him that they split – half of them raced up behind him, the others exited on the south side. They were all looking to get to beach – straight up the block – as fast as possible.
About 100 yards behind the slowest officer on foot was a Wave reporter. The police officers danced through parked cars and over curbs. They crossed over the boardwalk like high jumpers. The sound of rescue sirens filled the air. They were all coming.
Lifeguards formed human chains in the water. They dove and dove in teams of about a dozen and scraped a 75-foot wide stretch of ocean floor, from Beach 92 Street to the lower Beach 100s, in search of Mahain Iqbal, of nearby Jamaica.
There was a full mobilization of Police in the 100 Precinct; firefighters were on the scene within minutes of the first radio call and quickly deployed men on rescue surfboards and in drysuits; Rescue 4 sent in tethered divers; the NYPD Aviation Unit sent a helicopter; the NYPD, FDNY and even the Department of Environmental Conservation sent boats; neighboring Nassau County tried to help with a police helicopter and boat. EMS was also on the scene.
“You got a zoom on that thing? Start looking!” an officer shouted as he ran past one of several civilians with a camera. All eyes were on the water, but the only thing to be seen was the tremendous rescue effort and sadly, not the person they were trying so hard to save.
Nearly an hour had passed since Iqbal and two 16-year-old friends, Rubiyat and Fahad Chowdaury, entered the water to their chests, despite being weak, beginner swimmers with no knowledge of ocean currents or waves. The ramifications of that decision, which ultimately lead to the Iqbal’s drowning, began to sink in as the two young men and an adult female member of Iqbal’s family, all surrounded by lifeguards, parks staff and rescue workers, sat on the sand. They shook and cried as they began to understand that Iqbal would not be coming out of the water alive.
His body washed up in Breezy Point two days later and was transported to the Medical Examiner’s office. His funeral service was on Labor Day.
The Iqbal’s grieving family, their loss perhaps too fresh to express anything but pain, had criticism for the lifeguards who tried to save the teenager.
“The lifeguards should have done their job better,” Iqbal’s teenage sister Nadia told The Wave by telephone this week. She said her brother, a Brooklyn Technical High School student who worked at McDonald’s and helped his father at a computer graphics store, was a funny and caring young man who enjoyed sports. The voices of relatives, who came from Canada and Michigan to grieve the family’s loss, could be heard in background.
But the incident sparked a different reaction from Janet Fash, the Chief Lifeguard at the Beach 97 Street station. In a one-page letter posted for lifeguards and obtained by The Wave, Fash describes the lifeguard’s actions as quick, heroic and professional. She reassures them that she is proud and honored to work with them.
“When it comes to Mother Nature and the public’s disrespect for the ocean, tragedy is always lurking,” she wrote candidly. “We have a profound impact summer after summer in providing a safe environment for the public but it also takes the public’s respect of the ocean. During our short season we consistently and continually make the difference between life and death in our thousands of preventative measures,” she wrote, also citing the shack’s previous 19-years without a drowning during lifeguard hours.
If that kind of reassurance isn’t enough, lifeguards can seek counseling through the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations or their union, which offers assistance after potentially traumatic incidents, according to the Department of Parks Press office.