LONG ISLAND CITY — A good Samaritan helped rescue a man who struggled to swim to shore after he jumped into the East River Monday to complete the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," aimed at raising awareness about ALS.
Artur Mierzejewski, 34, of Kew Gardens Hills, said he was walking with his wife and a friend in Gantry Plaza State Park Monday night when he saw three men at the end of one of the park's piers near the old gantries.
According to Mierzejewski, a man in the group climbed over the fence and jumped into the water while yelling "ALS challenge" — an apparent nod to the series of online videos where participants dump a bucket of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for the debilitating neurological disease.
Some of the challenges have been more involved, though, including a Scottish teen who jumped in a flooded quarry and died.
The East River swimmer was in the water for a couple of minutes before he started yelling to his friends that he was struggling and was worried he might not make it, according to Mierzejewski.
A second man who was with the swimmer then jumped in to help, Mierzejewski said, but also began to struggle, so he turned back towards the waterfront.
Though he says he's not the best swimmer, Mierzejewski stripped off his clothes and jumped in the river to help out — prompted, he said, by his own near-drowning experience back in Poland when he was 8 years old.
"I knew that feeling," he said. "I could not just watch this guy drown and not help."
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He reached the man and started pulling him towards one of the piers, which took about 5 minutes, he said.
He said the current was strong, especially for someone who was a weak swimmer.
"I thought I was not going to make it," Mierzejewski said. "His head would sometimes slip under the water, and he was pulling me down with him, but once we made it to the pillar [of the pier], I heard police sirens and I knew we were going to be OK."
Mierzejewski said the man he pulled "was completely exhausted," but still able to talk when they reached the pillar. He said the ordeal took about 8 to 10 minutes, from when he jumped into the water to when rescuers arrived.
As they were clinging to the pier, he said he told the man: "I guess you're not going to do anything that stupid again," he said.
"For sure, not," the man said.
Police said they responded to a 911 call shortly after 8 p.m., and brought all three men ashore safely. The two other men were described by police as being 21 and 22 years old.
Both were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital for evaluation, though neither was seriously injured, according to the NYPD.
Mierzejewski, who works for a company that services water meters, said he declined to go to the hospital.
"I’m really glad it ended the way it did," he said. "I would not be able to handle the thought that I could have helped him and I didn't."