Killer Current Claims Another Victim
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."