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Swimmers return to Catskill Creek day after drowning

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    Jata Kitson/Columbia-Greene MediaSwimmers at the Catskill Creek near Leeds, July 5 2018.
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    Jata Kitson/Columbia-Greene MediaSwimmers at the Catskill Creek near Leeds, July 5 2018.
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    Jata Kitson/Columbia-Greene MediaSwimmers at the Catskill Creek near Leeds, July 5 2018.
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    Lance Wheeler/for Columbia-Greene Media First responders in the Catskill Creek where an 18-year-old was confirmed dead Wednesday evening.
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    Lance Wheeler/for Columbia-Greene Media Police parked on the north side of the New York State Thruway on Wednesday near the Catskill Creek where an 18-year-old was confirmed dead.
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    Lance Wheeler/for Columbia-Greene Media First responders at the Catskill Creek where an 18-year-old was confirmed dead Wednesday evening.
July 5, 2018 07:19 pm

CATSKILL — Swimmers returned to Catskill Creek to beat the heat Thursday after emergency responders recovered the body of an 18-year-old man who drowned on the Fourth of July.

Greene County sheriff’s deputies responded to a report at about 4:10 p.m. Wednesday of a person under water in Catskill Creek near Route 23. The caller told police the swimmer was under water, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

Nay Htoo, 18, of Albany, was out of the water, but unresponsive, when emergency personnel arrived, according to police. Rescue teams attempted CPR and life-saving efforts.

Htoo was pronounced dead at the scene at 5 p.m. by Greene County Coroner Richard Vigilo. A medical examination is pending, Vigilo said Thursday.

Htoo and others climbed down to the creek at the popular Route 23 overpass access point, but hiked to a remote section downstream that was difficult for first responders to access, Leeds Fire Chief Thomas McCullough II said Thursday.

“They hiked about a quarter mile, plus or minus, southeast of the Thruway overpass,” he said. “Accessibility to the creek from [county Route] 23 was virtually nonexistent.”

Three firefighters climbed down a steep, dirt path from the Thruway while others tried to find an alternate access point, McCullough added. Htoo was found downcreek and first responders pulled him to more solid ground to administer CPR after they discovered he wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.

“They [rescuers] already trudged through difficult terrain,” McCullough said, adding they called for backup recovery teams. “They were winded and tired and then doing CPR, which takes a lot out of you.”

When Htoo was pronounced dead, the three friends who were with him said goodbye and grieved before rescuers walked them to a Greene County sheriff’s vehicle.

The recovery concluded at about 8 p.m. Wednesday when rescuers removed Htoo from the area, McCullough said.

Personnel from state police, Catskill Ambulance, Greene County paramedics, Catskill, Leeds, Athens, Cairo and West Athens fire departments assisted at the scene, according to police.

The Hudson Water Rescue/Dive Team, Athens Water Rescue Team, and Twin Cloves Rope Rescue Team also responded, said Nicolas Pierro, assistant Hudson fire chief and DIVE team member.

The recovery included the use inflatable boats and all-terrain vehicles, McCullough said.

Rescue teams faced additional hurtles such as heat, dehydration, limited holiday staffing, he said.

“We’re not new to that environment,” he said noting a rescue in May 2017 where three boys were saved from Catskill Creek.

“But, this was unique because it was farther down than what we would anticipate and on a higher scale that required more resources and manpower to execute,” he said. “It was quite the recovery. Men and women coming together from multiple agencies, a full command center — that’s what we do for free.”

Drownings aren’t common in that area of the Catskill Creek, where swimming is legal, Rowell said Thursday. Wednesday was the first incident this year, he said.

People swimming on the creek, just off Route 23B in the village of Leeds on Thursday had not heard about Wednesday’s drowning, but said it is tragic.

“This is my first time swimming here,” said Kit Cohen, of Germantown. “That is sad and unfortunate. There is a dangerous element to swimming in the creek if you aren’t paying attention.”

Cohen followed a exodus of people from the creek when it started raining heavily Thursday, but said many people were swimming at the creek.

David Hunker, of Westchester County, estimated about 40 people were swimming at Catskill Creek in Leeds on Thursday, where he and his family were.

“This is our first time swimming here,” Hunker said. “Here it is not deep enough to actually swim, which is good for the kids.”

Hunker, who owns a home near Green Lake, was near the Route 23 access point to the water, but said he was not aware of Wednesday’s drowning.

“That area was packed yesterday,” Hunker said. “There were 23 to 25 cars lined up along Route 23.”

Coco Goupil, of New York City, has swam in the creek in the past, she said. She and her friends, who all attend Bard College, went to the creek to swim Thursday.

“That is a shame; it is very tragic,” Groupil said of the drowning. “But at the same time, I hope it doesn’t ruin our ability to swim here.”

The location in Leeds is a great location to relax and swim, she said.

“It has been really tame here because we have been seeing a kind of drought,” Groupil added. “It is not that deep. It gets a little deeper near the basin. Last August, we came here and the rocks were really slippery and I almost slipped in.”

More swimmers arrived at the creek after the 20-minute rain shower passed.

Swimming safety is essential, as people drown not only in lakes and rivers, but backyard pools, said Greenport Fire Chief John Jr. Onufrychuk. People should carry and wear life jackets for swimming in lakes and rivers, practice emergency procedures and watch children around pools, he said.