Two teens drown after officials in New York City opted out of hiring lifeguards on certain beaches in the city and not others. Multiple lifeguards disagreed with the decision to not staff the beach, saying to leave it unstaffed marked it for a disastrous end.
On Friday, June 18, a stretch on the Rockaway Beach that presented itself as an oasis from the soaring 90-degree temperature proved to be unsafe for Diaka Kourouma,16, and another male believed to be 18 years old. Both individuals succumbed to the tumultuous waters raging from Beach 98th Street up to Beach 108th Street, a popular but dangerous stretch on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, the Gothamist notes.
Kourouma and the unnamed young man were taken to local hospitals and pronounced dead. The FDNY and other lifeguards were able to save three other swimmers who found themselves battling the choppy surf. While they were all taken to the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital also and were under doctors’ care, they were expected to survive.
According to many, no lifeguards were hired to supervise the 10-block stretch of beach.
The decision was made to co-align with a federal effort called the Atlantic Shorefront Resiliency Project to build out more jetties in the area.
The Parks Department, which oversees city lifeguards, moved to ban swimming in the area between Beach 86th Street and Beach 116th Street through mid-July to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initiative. The goal is to fortify the “shoreline by constructing 19 new stone groin structures to stabilize and replenish the beach.”
In addition to this, the city says there is a nationwide lifeguard shortage causing the Parks Department of New York to cut back on a bevy of summertime water activities, including free public swimming lessons often offered at city pools.
Rescue professionals and residents from the community believe this could have all been prevented and are furious at the city’s decision to not provide staff for the area, particularly since it has a history of being heavily trafficked.
Helen Kilgallen, a Rockaway resident, called 911 when she saw the kids playing in the water near the rock jetty at Beach 108th Street.
When commenting on the unfortunate accident, she said, “It’s unbelievably devastating because it could have been prevented.”
The community stakeholder rationalized, “If there was anybody on duty, they never would’ve let them near those rocks.”
Janet Fash, who has served as a lifeguard on the beach for years, said she and her colleagues knew something awful like this would happen.
“We knew it was inevitable,” she said. “When they’re closing beaches that would be open and not providing lifeguards, it really puts the public at risk.”
A response from the city disputes that lifeguards were not hired. Crystal Howard, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, said the drownings occurred after 6 p.m. when city lifeguards would have ended their shifts. She said, “Conflating these horrible after-hours incidences with any other issue is just wrong and ill-informed.”
Kourouma’s drowning happened minutes before 6 p.m. end of day check-out. FDNY was called for her at 5:58 p.m. when someone should have been on duty. The second call for the 18-year-old’s tragic drowning logged in at 6:19 p.m. The three other accidents, where luckily the swimmers survived, were reported at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Kilgallen said one of the teens asked her to find a lifeguard after her friend was swept away into the ocean, but no one could be located. This conversation happened before 6 p.m.
“She said my friend is under the water,” the woman shared. “There was no question that the lifeguards were on duty, they just weren’t at that beach.”
Kourouma’s death was the realization of her father’s worst nightmare and last conversation with her. He allowed her to go with her friends under the condition that she would be careful.
Her dad, Aliou Kourouma, said his daughter told him she was going to Coney Island, not the Rockaways. Even with that decision, he was leery because it was so far from their Bronx home.
Her request came while he was away in Guinea, Africa, and he agreed to let her go over a phone call.
“I tell her ‘Hey, Diaka, it’s scary. You and who?’” the 30-year-old dad said. “I tell her ‘call me.’ So, she called me by FaceTime. We talked. I explained to her a little bit. ‘Why you want to go, I don’t like it.’ She said, ‘’It’s a beautiful day, I want to go with friends,’ and she gave me three names. I said ‘Okay, Diaka, be careful.’ ”
The young lady promised not to go in water higher than her hips.
Her friends recalled they all arrived as a group close to noon and swam all day in a lifeguard-supervised area. They said, around 6 p.m., two lifeguards told them to go over to another side near Beach 116th St. to continue to swim. However, that side had no rescue personnel there to watch them.
In this area, the water was rough and eventually pulled Kourouma under.
According to the Daily News, her friends tried to help her, but could not find any lifeguards to assist.
Mariame Soumah, 18, one of the friends on the swim trip, said, “We went into the water. She came with me because I was in the water with her. And afterward, we all started drowning. We were all yelling for help. I didn’t hear her. I was yelling for help.”
Another friend, Nabintou, said she also searched for someone to save Kourouma.
“I went to go call for a lifeguard,” the 17-year-old said. “There was not a single lifeguard there. I ran. I said ‘We need help, somebody, lifeguard, lifeguard.’ And we all came, and we all tried to help and grab as many people as we could.”
The girls also said the lifeguards on duty were not clear about the rules.
“It was a lot of people there,” Nabintou continued. “Like hundreds of people. If the beach closes at 6, then why didn’t somebody come and tell us to leave the park?”
The young girl was found by rescue near Beach 108th St. within hours, before being taken to the hospital and declared dead.
The girl’s father flew back from Africa and was able to mourn his daughter in a Bronx Mosque on Father’s Day, June 19. While there, he recalled talking to her every day and how close they were.
We talked a lot,” the dad said. “We talk every day. She’s my princess.”
The friends joined the bereaved parent at the house of worship and offered prayers for the deceased. While gathered, they also reminisced on what a “good person” she was and how they were all excited to spend time next school year with her in the upcoming fall.
Kourouma would have been a senior had she survived the horrible accident.