Two men die after swimming at Rockaway

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A man drowned after swimming in the waters off Rockaway Beach Monday and a search was ongoing Tuesday for a second swimmer presumed drowned off the peninsula during a week where Rockaway currents claimed three lives.

Michael Mathleson, 56, of 858 71st St. in Brooklyn, was found unconscious off the waters of Beach 227th Street at 3:46 p.m. Monday when a fellow swimmer brought his body to shore, police said.

The swimmer who carried Mathleson’s body to the shore said Mathleson complained of chest pains before he became unconscious, police said.

Another man, 21-year-old Anthony Bolden, got caught in a rip tide Monday near Jacob Riis Park and is presumed drowned, the New York Post reported. A search for Bolden was extended Tuesday to include the waters off Jones Beach, the paper said.

On Sunday, 19-year-old Daniel O’Neill of the Bronx drowned after getting caught in a rip tide off the waters near Beach 25th Street, police said.

The area where O’Neill drowned was not designated as a swimming area, meaning lifeguards were not patrolling those waters when he died.

Riptides are generated from strong swells that form two weeks after a strong storm or from shifting sand and can occur without notice.

Swimmers can identify riptides by silky areas or a discoloration in surface water. It is suggested to swim either parallel or diagonal to the shore if a beach-goer gets caught in a riptide.

A lifeguard patrolling a stretch of Rockaway Beach was suspended Monday after he was using headphones while on duty over the weekend when O’Neill drowned off the peninsula’s waters, a city Parks Department spokesman said.

He was patrolling the shore near Beach 108th Street, more than 80 blocks away from where O’Neill died, and was not responsible for looking after O’Neill when the teenager drowned.

The lifeguard, whose name was not released by Parks, could be fired as a result of the suspension. A New York Post photographer snapped a picture of the lifeguard in his chair wearing headphones while on duty.

“Lifeguards are not permitted to use headphones while on duty. They must give their complete and undivided attention to the swimmers and ocean conditions at all times,” said Parks spokesman Philip Abramson. “The Parks Department is suspending this lifeguard and will bring him up on formal disciplinary charges, which could result in penalties up to and including termination. This is an unacceptable violation of our regulations, which is not representative of the dedication and diligence displayed by the vast majority of our over 1,300 lifeguards.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Updated 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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