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Even though they jumped at a moment’s notice to save the life of an adrift fisherman Sunday off Jamaica Bay, Briarwood resident Cesar Menesees and his son Alex said they do not consider themselves heroes.
The Ecuadorian immigrants, both of whom have been swimming for years, said they did not think twice when they saw Mario Acatitla and fellow fisherman Jesus Gonzales deep in the water off the beach near the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge.
“They didn’t know how to swim,” said Cesar Menesees, 39, who used to be a lifeguard. “I just got in the water and told my son to help.”
The father and son were able to reach Gonzales but could not rescue Acatitla, 19, of Brooklyn, whose body was discovered by police around 5:30 p.m. Gonzales was taken to Jamaica Hospital and was listed in stable condition as of press time Tuesday, a hospital official said.
Cesar Menesees decided to take his son, his wife Anabell and the family dogs, Duke and Lola, to the beach to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. They were having their fun in the sun along with 20 other visitors when they heard the two fishermen screaming for help around 2:30 p.m.
Alex Menesees, 17, who is part of the Richmond Hill High School swim team, said the men were bobbing up and down in the water and had their hands in the air, trying to stay afloat.
“I threw my phone and iPod away and went in with my father,” the teen said. “I felt brave but at the same time I was unsure, because I didn’t know if I would be taken by the current.”
The tide was very rough on Sunday due to the full moon and the wind was pushing waves away from the shore.
Alex Menesees said he had fallen into the water during a school trip to the beach when he was 10, but had a life preserver and was able to get back to shore. Since then, he has learned how to swim and practices regularly.
“I keep my body swimming to be ready for that kind of moment,” he said.
Cesar Menesees eventually made it to Gonzales and grabbed him by the shoulder. Menesees, who works as a room service employee at the Midtown Novotel Hotel, said he had saved two people from the currents during his days as a lifeguard in Ecuador and immediately tended to the fisherman.
“I told him to relax. I said, ‘I got you,’” the father said
After turning Gonzales over to a park ranger, the father and son went back into the water to find Acatitla, but had no luck.
“I saw a hat and the shoes in the water,” Alex Menesees recalled.
The fishermen’s relatives arrived at the beach and waited while police divers, helicopter and boats searched the bay for Acatitla. Although they were overcome with grief, the family members thanked the Meneseeses for their effort.
Cesar Menesees said he felt honored at being able to help one of the family members, but he became emotional when he thought about Acatitla.
“I wish I could have helped the other man the first time,” he said. “Sometimes you want to do everything in life, but you cannot do it.”
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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