By Ben Fractenberg
EAST HARLEM — Two homeless men were rescued from the East River Wednesday after they jumped in to save an older man who had fallen from a pier.
Jonathan Barbosa, 28, was hanging out with a friend on Pier 107, just north of East 106th Street, around noon when he noticed a man in his 60s on the other side of the railing. He said something about getting in the water, and was taking off his shoes when he fell off a narrow wooden plank.
Barbosa, who lives in a homeless shelter in Queens, said he dove in after the man.
“I just jumped,” he said. “I didn’t think about it.”
Barbosa put an arm around the older man and pulled him to one of the pier’s wooden piles. But they were unable to reach the pier’s platform, about six feet above them. Another man, whom authorities said was also homeless, jumped in to lend a hand. But there was little he could do, Barbosa said.
As they floated next to the pier, the older man groaned that he couldn’t breathe. Though his head was above water, the man seemed to be gasping for air, Barbosa said.
After about 15 minutes, a team of firefighters arrived from Engine 53 and Ladder 43, a water-rescue unit, on Third Avenue. Four of them jumped in to help the three men.
FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said that the river's currents are deceptively strong, and often turn rescuers into victims.
The firefighters used a ladder to help the men back onto the pier. They were assisted by a member of the police department's emergency service unit.
The man in his 60s, whom authorities did not identify, was unconscious by then, fire officials said. He was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in critical condition. He'd swallowed a lot of water, but was expected to survive.
A second man, apparently the one who jumped in after Barbosa, had also swallowed a lot of water and was taken to the hospital in serious condition. He too was expected to survive.
The four firefighters who jumped into the water were taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital for evaluation.
After the ambulances had left, Barbosa stayed near the scene. He was left with just a few scrapes on his leg and a story to tell.
“If it wasn’t for me he would have drowned,” Barbosa said.