Monday, July 6, 2009

Queens Angler Drowns Wading Too Far Out in Jamaica Bay by Edgar Sandoval and Oren Yaniv - NY Daily News

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Friends and family watch the divers bring the body of the deceased to the beach. Pace for News

A fisherman drowned and his friend was pulled to safety yesterday after they both stumbled into deep water in a treacherous stretch of Jamaica Bay, Queens, witnesses said.

Family members identified the drowned man as Mario Acatilta, 19, a Mexican immigrant.

His pal Jesus Gonzales was recovering in the hospital after a former lifeguard jumped in and plucked him from the water.

The two friends were fishing at North Channel Beach in Broad Channel when the water suddenly deepened and they lost their footing about 2:30 p.m.

"The problem is that there is a big drop," said Jaikarran Bridguepaug, 52, an electrician who was fishing alongside the men and helped bring Gonzales ashore.

"I wish I could have done more, but it happened so fast," he added.

"They were yelling 'Help me! Help me!'" added Bridguepaug, of Ozone Park.

Cesar Meneses, 39, a room service staffer at the Novotel Hotel in midtown who once worked as a lifeguard, jumped into the choppy water.

He managed to grab the barely floating Gonzales by the collar and pulled him back toward shore.

"I told him, 'I'm here to help you,'" Meneses recalled.

"I'm not going to die," the man mumbled as they neared safety.

A park ranger performed CPR on Gonzales until an ambulance arrived. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital, officials said.

The rescuer said he returned to look for Acatilta, but only found sneakers and a yellow hat floating near where he disappeared.

"The water took him," Meneses said sadly.

Rescuers recovered the teenager's lifeless body at 5:30 p.m. as sobbing relatives - including his brother, who was still clutching the wet hat - watched in anguish.

The heartbroken brother said only that Acatilta was a supermarket worker who moved here two years ago from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala.

The small sandy beach with city views is attached to a parking lot off Cross Bay Blvd.

About 200 people dotted the quarter-mile stretch yesterday, some enjoying the sparkling day and other fishing for bluefish and bass.

Plenty of regulars said the idyllic shore masked an ominous danger.

"These aren't waters for swimming - it's too rough," said John Baptist, 37, who frequents the beach. "You take one step, you're fine. You take the next, you're down there."

Other beachgoers suggested a sign be posted warning people about the shifting seabed.

"Anyone who comes here knows that you have to walk carefully," said Lulzim Buzhiqi, 38, who was also fishing in the area.

Meneses said he wanted to see Gonzales again, and said the loss of his pal was going to hit the survivor hard.

"I'm worried about him," Meneses said.