Alleged Esopus drowning incident remains a mystery
By Jay Braman Jr.
On Saturday afternoon the Phoenicia Fire Department received a chilling call.
A teenage girl in a red swimsuit was allegedly seen playing in the water on the Esopus Creek in Phoenicia one minute and the next she was gone, leaving only a life jacket stuck on a branch bobbing in the currents.
What began next was one of the largest searches in recent memory. Dozens of police and fire personnel walked the stream as two police helicopters hovered only a hundred feet above the water in hope that spotters could see the victim. Two separate dive teams were brought in as well to search the half-mile stretch of the creek where the incident is said to have occurred.
But Saturday evening came to a close and no one was found. Sunday morning the search was resumed, but still nothing.
Finally the search was called off, with emergency divers noting that despite the alarm sent out the day before, no has yet been officially reported missing.
Following the two consecutive searches of the Esopus over as many days, the chief of the Phoenicia Fire District said late on Sunday that the dive teams assisting in the search for a possible drowning victim found nothing to report.
Chief Gary Carr said district officials received the call of a possible drowning around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. The search was initiated at 4:47 p.m.
Carr said searchers checked along the Esopus until dark. He said the search resumed Sunday at 7:30 a.m. as coordination of the second sweep began.
He said the teams searched from the Woodland Valley Bridge to the Bridge Street Bridge in Phoenicia. After no results the search was expanded. Still nothing.
The chief said the initial report to dispatch came from a young tuber along the Esopus. Even though this was the only sighting, Carr said his department takes all calls seriously.
Last August a 55-year-old Kerhonkson man drowned in a tubing accident in the Esopus Creek.
Peter Debaun was tubing with a group on the creek when he fell from his tube in strong rapids and his legs became stuck in underwater rocks, police said. Someone from the nearby Sleepy Hollow Campground called 911 at 3:30 p.m. Ulster County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Michael Freer said a dive team was called to the scene to get the victim out of the creek, but it was too late. Debaun was pronounced dead by the Ulster County medical examiner, police said.
The last tubing death on the Esopus occurred in 2002, when 17-year-old Nicole Coppolino of Brooklyn was pulled down by fast-moving water and trapped by underwater branches.
The Phoenicia Fire District was assisted last weekend in the search by the Shandaken Police Department, The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office dive team, the Ulster Hose Company Dive Team and the New York State Police.