It happened just before 2:40 p.m. at Rockaway Beach near 67th and the boardwalk.
This video from Eyewitness News shows rescue teams in action:
Firefighters rushed into the surf off Rockaway Beach Wednesday and police dangled from a helicopter to rescue the teen 75 yards away from shore.
This video from Jamie Merritt shows FDNY members running out to the water with a raft:
"People started coming out of the helicopters and they started trying to rescue the person who was in the water," a witness said.
As people watched, firefighters attempted CPR on the 19-year-old, but it was too late. After being trapped in a rip current near Beach 67th Street, there was no saving him.
Cops say the teen and some friends had skipped school on the first 90 degree day of the season, to go to the beach with friends.
In fact, they managed to slip through an NYPD dragnet, as cops stopped every Q52 and Q53 bus to search for truant students.
The drowning victim attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens. The Department of Education plans to offer grief counseling Thursday.
"My heartfelt condolences are with the student's family and the entire school community during this very difficult time. This is a tragic loss and I am deeply saddened," the NYC Schools Chancellor said in a statement.