NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- NYPD and FDNY divers rescued a swimmer who went underwater in the Rockaways Wednesday afternoon, but the swimmer later died.
The divers were sent to the waters off Beach 29 in Arverne, Queens after the swimmer went under around 2:30 p.m., officials said.
"His head went down, bobbed up, bobbed down, bobbed up, and he just disappeared," said Christine Croke of Arverne.
Rescuers finally pulled the 19-year-old out about an hour later. But as CBS2's Lou Young reported, the boy had been in the water far too long before would-be rescuers got to him.
He was pronounced dead at St. John's Episcopal Hospital late Wednesday afternoon.
The view from above was heartbreaking, as rescue swimmers from the fire and police departments struggled to get him into an inflatable boat they brought across the beach.
Rescue swimmers had even dropped into the sea off Far Rockaway from helicopters.
Croke tried to comfort the two survivors who were with the victim, and listened as they told their stories to police.
"The one guy that died went in further. The next guy that followed did not go in as far. He said, 'I can't swim,' so the other guy tried to go after him," Croke said. "I think he was climbing on the jetty because his knees were all cut up."
On the boulevard, the other side of the boardwalk, lifeguard chairs stood waiting for the start of the swimming season – which comes around at 10 a.m. Saturday. But no lifeguards were on duty when the swimmer slipped underwater.
Beachgoers, who were lured to the ocean for the first day of the warm season, all seemed to believe they were immune to the danger.
"It's so nice out today, and I have time, so you've got to take advantage," said Adam Friedl of Broad Channel. As to the lack of lifeguards, he added, "There's a lot of people here, and I'm not going out very far."
"I was already three times inside," said Hassan Balel of Woodhaven. When Young pointed out to him that there were no lifeguards, Balel said, "Well, you know, I consider myself a well swimmer."
The victim attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and was apparently taking the day off from school with friends when he swam out farther than the rest and got into trouble. He vanished near the end of a jetty.
The rip tide was strong enough that it even began to get the best of one of the rescue swimmers. But people kept heading out into the water after the tragedy.
"There was a bunch of people surfing earlier, I don't know," said Bushwick, Brooklyn resident Drew Rodriguez. "Someone like pointed at us while we were out there – they like pointed out – but we didn't know what they were talking about."
Safety experts regularly remind people not to fight a rip tide if caught in one, but instead to swim parallel to break its grip and then get to shore.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña released a statement in response to the teen's death: "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. We will provide crisis resources and ongoing support to those in need."
The teen's name had not been released late Wednesday.
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