2007-06-01 / Front Page

Drowning Stats Deceptive

After Hours Or Closed Beaches Not Included
By Miriam Rosenberg

By Miriam Rosenberg

Signs warning of "strong currents and sudden drop-offs that have attributed to drownings" are posted up and down the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.Signs warning of "strong currents and sudden drop-offs that have attributed to drownings" are posted up and down the Rockaway Beach boardwalk. First there were not enough lifeguards. Now - with the summer beach season just starting - a report in the New York Post gives Rockaway Beach the distinction of being the deadliest beach in New York City. Yet, the official statistics from the New York City Department of Health (NYC DOH) don't tell the whole story of just how dangerous Rockaway beaches are.

The New York City Department of Health reports only one drowning at a Rockaway Beach since 1999, but that number doesn't include incidents that occurred when lifeguards were off duty.

In its May 25, 2002 issue, The Wave reported, "Over the past decade, Rockaway beaches have claimed 14 lives."

Since then, The Wave has reported at least 11 additional drownings in the Rockaway area.

But, if you are the NYCDOH, 24 of those drownings do not count.

The city numbers do not include three girls, ages 12 to 18, who drowned off Beach 17 Street prior to lifeguards coming on duty in July 2001. The city's stats do not include a 69-year-old grandfather who drowned one evening in August 2002 at 6:45 p.m. off Reynold's Channel after lifeguards had gone home, nor do they include those who drowned at Jacob Riis Park, because it is federally owned property.

"We only have one drowning [at Rockaway Beach] since 1999," said Sara Markt, a spokesperson for the NYCDOH. "That was in 2004 on Beach 95 Street.

"We don't include [drownings that occur] after hours, when the beach is closed or beaches where people are not allowed to swim."

Markt said the DOH investigates drownings that happen when lifeguards are on duty or at an approved swimming beach.

"This is what the state requires us to do," Markt continued. "Our concern is prevention.

"[The drownings] still count, we just don't do investigations."

The records kept by the Department of Parks are no better. Despite The Wave's reports of five drownings at area beaches last year - including at Riis Park and Mill Basin - the Department of Parks has no record of any of them because they took place on federal property.

"The city experienced no drownings during the summer of 2006," said Warner Johnston, a spokesperson for Parks, who also said, "I can only comment on drownings that occur on CITY-owned parkland. Neither Jacob Riis Park nor Floyd Bennett Field are within our portfolio."

In 2002, after the 2001 drownings of the three girls on Beach 17 Street, the city put up signs to warn people about the dangerous currents in the waters off Rockaway Beach.

"There's rougher surf at Rockaway Beach and potential for more difficult currents," said Liam Kavanagh, the Parks Department first deputy commissioner in charge of beaches and pools, in the New York Post article.

Kavanagh went on to call Rockaway Beach "the most challenging beach for swimming and lifeguarding."

During the opening of the area's beaches last week, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe offered warnings to young and old alike when it comes to using the city's beaches.

"Never go swimming when there is no lifeguard on duty," said Benepe. "Something bad could happen. We can't save you if we're not there."

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