Police Searching for East River Swimmer Swept Away by Current
WILLIAMSBURG — A young man who was swept away by currents as he swam in the East River before dawn Thursday remains missing after a search by divers, helicopters and boats, police said.
Steven Middleton, 21, jumped off a pier in Williamsburg near Kent Avenue and North 1st Street some time before 5:50 a.m. Thursday and suddenly vanished in the dark water, his friends and police sources said.
''It was as soon as he got in the water," said Darius Adrien, a photographer from Brooklyn, who said he and two other friends tried to find him, and then called 911 about 5:50 a.m. when they realized the victim was missing. "[The current] was just too strong."
Adrien said he and his friends had been celebrating a friend's graduation and had gone out to a diner in Bushwick before heading to the pier. Adrien had been to the pier — which is only accessible through a cut-out hole in a chain link fence — several times before to take photos, he said.
Middleton had just turned 21 years old a few days earlier, friends said.
''I just want them to find my son," Middleton's mother, Tonya Middleton, said outside her home on Friday.
Witness Manny Aguilar, 30, said the friends "were freaking out."
"They were yelling out to an NYPD boat where they had last seen him. The police boat had just passed by, but they got its attention and it circled back around."
The NYPD said it dispatched a harbor boat with rescue to look for the missing swimmer, but they had to briefly halt the search, citing "dangerous conditions," police said.
The East River is a tidal strait, which produces fast moving currents and swiftly changing tides, experts said.
Carter Craft, a licensed captain and urban planner who specializes in riverfront development, said that it can be a particularly dangerous place to swim.
"At first glance or in the dark the water can look calm but it almost never is," Craft, who recently guided competitors in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, said. "The conditions change quickly."
Craft said at that hour Thursday, the currents in that section of the East River were pushing towards LaGuardia Airport and Long Island Sound, and could have carried the swimmer north at a rapid rate of approximately 1-1.5 nautical miles per hour.
He said the currents are so strong, they could have pushed the swimmer towards Newtown Creek or Hallets Cove in Long Island City, or even all the way to the Harlem River towards the RFK Bridge.
The Thursday accident comes less than a week after two 13-year-old cousins drowned in the Bronx River when they tried to go for a dip after school.