By Katie McFadden
The long holiday weekend was marred by the first drowning of the summer on Rockaway Beach. On Sunday, July 2, 14-year-old Waleed Afridi died after going in the water around Beach 74th Street when lifeguards were not on the beach.
Just after 5 p.m., lifeguards blew their whistles as a thunderstorm moved through on Sunday, calling all swimmers out of the water and off the beach due to the threat of lightning, before heading back to their shacks, a standard protocol for NYC beaches. Waleed, who family members told the NY Daily News was not a strong swimmer, entered the water sometime before 6 p.m.
Witnesses started to scream for help and called 911 when they noticed Afridi went under and didn’t resurface. Basia Lewandowski, a retired lifeguard, was nearby visiting friend, Amanda Reynolds, who is an active lifeguard. The pair jumped into action, with Reynolds diving into the water while Lewandowski ran onto the nearby jetty, serving as a spotter. Afridi had been under water for several minutes when fellow lifeguards arrived on the scene and formed a chain to try to locate the boy under the water.
They were able to locate Afridi and drag his blue body onto the sand to begin CPR. Lewandowski told news outlets that the boy showed no signs of life and was foaming at the mouth as the lifeguards provided aid until first responders arrived and took over operations, carrying Afridi to an ambulance. Afridi’s family watched the whole ordeal unfold. Afridi was transported to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the boy was declared dead at the hospital.
Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers responded to the scene and later said, “Today, my district experienced a gut-wrenching tragedy. The loss of Waleed, a 14-year-old, who died on the shores of Rockaway Beach. Hearing the mom cry out today continues to ring with me. Please join me in praying for this family during this difficult time. Thank you to all of the first responders who made every attempt to save him.”
Councilwoman Joann Ariola said, “My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of the young man who lost his life this weekend. This was a terrible tragedy that serves as a stark reminder of the power and unpredictability of the Atlantic Ocean. We need to keep working to promote ocean safety awareness in our schools and continue to teach young people about how to enter the ocean safely.”
There are some upcoming efforts that aim to prevent such tragedies. Nonprofit program, the Rising Tide Effect, is providing swimming lesson to children utilizing the pool at The Rockaway Hotel, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings through August 24. For more information, email: email@example.com
The 100th Precinct is also hosting a free beach safety event on Tuesday, July 18 at 11 a.m. with NYPD Community Affairs and the NYPD Scuba Team. They will be offering beach safety tips and water rescue awareness training to children and adults at Beach 108th Street. For more information, contact Detective Duhaney at 646-246-8292.
Strong rip current warnings have been in effect in recent weeks. Please only swim in the ocean when and where lifeguards are on duty.
Photo by Tim Moriarty.