Beach closed for thunder, lightning before 14-year-old drowned in Rockaways

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Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Beach closed for weather before 14-year-old drowned in Rockaways
The beach was closed due to thunder and lightning when a 14-year-old boy drowned at Beach 73rd and Rockaway Beach around 5:45 p.m. in the Rockaways.

ARVERNE, Queens (WABC) -- Officials are using a holiday weekend tragedy to warn others about the dangers at the beach this summer.

Drownings remain one of the top emergencies during the July 4th holiday weekend as thousands fan out at beaches across the Tri-State.

Eyewitnesses say the beach where a 14-year-old drowned Sunday evening had just been closed due to thunder and lightning.

It happened at Beach 73rd and Rockaway Beach around 5:45 p.m.

The area was closed around 5:00 p.m. due to weather and most lifeguards headed back up to their clubhouse.

The victim was spotted in the water about a half hour later and that's when a former lifeguard jumped in to try to rescue him.

Basia Lewandowski, an ex-lifeguard, jumped into action. She grabbed a whistle, and her friend and ran right into the waves.

"We do what we call a diving line, and so the lifeguards started diving," Lewandowski said. "It was a miracle we found his body."

The victim was unconscious when he was pulled from the water and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Bystanders estimate the teen was underwater for several minutes.

The boy's mother was there and witnessed people pulling her son from the water.

"It's a horror, an absolute horror to start a holiday and lose someone like that, but you can't swim when there's no lifeguards," said eyewitness Tim Moriarty.

The incident comes amid the backdrop of a national lifeguard shortage. On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation to lower the minimum age of lifeguards from 18 to 15 at summer camps in order to expand the pool safety professionals with the hope it frees up more lifeguards to patrol city beaches.

Officials say to stay safe in the water, only swim when lifeguards are present in open sections of the beach. Closed sections are indicated by red flags which mean do not swim.

Lifeguards are on duty 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

"During 10 to 6 o'clock time everyone is usually safe, everyone is always safe, but after that you always hear about stories about people drowning," said Ethan Tlatelpa, an off-duty lifeguard.

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