2008-07-25 / Front Page

Killer Current Claims Another Victim

Ripped From Beach, Body Reportedly Found Wednesday
By Howard Schwach

A16-year-old Jamaica teen, swimming with friends in the rough, hurricane-driven surf off Beach 116 Street, drowned on Friday afternoon, despite the efforts of lifeguards and several hours of searches by tired divers, helicopters and launches.

A spent scuba diver exits the water. With waves running high and a rip current running, the water was dangerous even for experienced divers. A spent scuba diver exits the water. With waves running high and a rip current running, the water was dangerous even for experienced divers. The teen, identified by family as Tiara Coaxum, a budding basketball star for Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, was in the water with another teen, Carla Amaza, 16, when, eyewitnesses say, the two began to founder in the growing waves and were drawn out from the beach.

Several lifeguards sprinted for the water and managed to save Amaza, who told reporters on the beach that the water "kept getting deeper and deeper."

Lifeguards spread out over the area in a human chain, searching for the teen.

A massive response to the incident brought three police helicopters as well as rescue craft from the Coast Guard and the police and fire departments.

Tiara Coaxum died in the raging Rockaway surf. Tiara Coaxum died in the raging Rockaway surf. Scuba divers from both of the city departments made continuing dives in the surf, searching for Coaxum.

A number of the divers came back to shore so spent that they had to be helped from the water by several of their colleagues.

The search went on well into the darkness Friday night and was resumed on Saturday, July 18, to no avail. On Wednesday, however, a body matching the description of the young girl, was recovered off the shore of Fort Tilden. Police would not confirm the identification at press time.

Coaxum was the first swimmer to die on Rockaway's beaches this summer, but she is far from the first victim of what officials say are rip currents that move swiftly in shallow water and can pull even the most experienced swimmer out into deeper water.

About 100 people die each year from rip currents, says Chris Brewer, president of the United States Lifesaving Association, adding that approximately 80 percent of the rescues made on American beaches can be attributed to rip currents.

Rip currents are much more prevalent during the hurricane season, when massive offshore storms send ocean swells to the beach, experts say.

Onlookers spread out along the beachfront hoping that the young teen could be found. Onlookers spread out along the beachfront hoping that the young teen could be found. A spokesperson for the National Weather Service said this week that the remnants of Hurricane Bertha were sweeping through the area, which whipped up winds of up to 75 miles-per-hour as it moved through the Atlantic.

Those rip currents are reportedly responsible for the deaths of nine people in Rockaway since 1999, compared with 21 deaths in the city's other nineteen beaches combined.

The deadliest of the incidents occurred in late July of 2001, when three young girls were swept away from Beach 17 Street. The three went into the water shortly before the lifeguards went on duty along a particularly dangerous stretch of beach adjoining Reynold's Channel.

In August of 2002, the rip current running out of Reynold's Channel claimed another victim.

A 69-year-old St. Albans grandfather was swimming with his family after the lifeguards had gone off duty for the day. He saw his son-in-law in trouble in the raging surf and rescued him, but at his own peril. He was swept away.

The drowning incident at Beach 116 Street on Friday, July 18, brought a massive response by the New York City Police Department, the Fire Department, the Coast Guard and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Police copters were joined by watercraft from both the NYPD and FDNY in looking for the missing 16-year-old. The response began shortly after 4 p.m. and lasted until well after dark. All photos by Howard Schwach. The drowning incident at Beach 116 Street on Friday, July 18, brought a massive response by the New York City Police Department, the Fire Department, the Coast Guard and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Police copters were joined by watercraft from both the NYPD and FDNY in looking for the missing 16-year-old. The response began shortly after 4 p.m. and lasted until well after dark. All photos by Howard Schwach. In June of 2004, two Brooklyn teens, fresh from a graduation party, went into the water at Beach 116 Street after the lifeguards were gone for the day.

They were quickly swept from shore, but were rescued by two of the NYPD's summer detail officers, firefighters and off-duty lifeguards.

One of the cops, an ex-marine, took off his uniform and gun belt and plunged into the waves, holding the two girls above the water until they could be pulled from the water.

In June of 2005, a 15-year-old Brooklyn youth was one of a group of teens who were playing football in the water when he was swept away about 20 minutes after the lifeguards went off duty.

Captain Thomas Barrett (center) runs the police response from the beach. Captain Thomas Barrett (center) runs the police response from the beach. A 40-year-old man who went to the rescue died of a heart attack. Two other teens managed to get themselves out of the water and a third was rescued by a surfboarder.

In July of 2006, an 18-year-old teen swimming at Riis Park, a unit of the federal Gateway National Recreation Area, was swept away by a rip current and killed.

Experts say that a swimmer caught in a rip current can easily survive if he or she follows some simple rules.

If caught in a rip current, don't fight the current, let it take you until it is spent.

Swim out of the current, parallel to the beach and then to shore.

If you can't escape the current, float or tread water.

Call or wave for assistance from shore.

There are two added rules, however, that are basic to all beachgoers.

Don't go into the water if no lifeguards are present.

The lifeguards pulled Carla Armaza (right) from the raging current, but were unable to get to her friend, identified as Tiara Coaxum, a star basketball player for Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica. The lifeguards pulled Carla Armaza (right) from the raging current, but were unable to get to her friend, identified as Tiara Coaxum, a star basketball player for Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica. Never go into the water alone. Know how to swim.

And, "if in doubt, don't go out."

"Tiara was not a swimmer," her mother Tikiah Williams told reporters. "She didn't even like the water."

The friends of Tiara Coaxum leaving the beach late on Friday afternoon. They are accompanied by a detective from the 100 Precinct Squad. The friends of Tiara Coaxum leaving the beach late on Friday afternoon. They are accompanied by a detective from the 100 Precinct Squad.

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What a terrible tragedy to lose another promising young woman to the ocean currents.
It is not only a tragedy to have lost her, but heartbreaking for the dedicated lifeguards, divers, air and water support and NYPD/FDNY to be unable to save her.
Our lifeguards take this job very seriously and work so hard to try to avoid this type of thing happening.
A very sad time all around. She looked like a beautiful girl.

the city of new york should look into creating swimming zones on all of rockaway beach,just as they have in Long Beach. Long Beach swim zones begin at the life guard chair and extend into the water with ropes and resemble a crib, if you want to swim you have to swim in the zone, which is much afer and assists the life guard teams and it protects people who think they know how to swim from loosing their lives.


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