A student from Stuyvesant High School, whose name has not been released, fell from the Esplanade into the Hudson River on Wednesday, around 1:00 pm, and was not aided by emergency responders for almost 20 minutes, according to witnesses.
One bystander, a Battery Park City resident who has asked that her name be withheld, recalls, “I was walking along the Esplanade, behind Stuyvesant High School, during my lunch hour. There was a teenage girl standing on top of the railing. She was smiling, and I remember thinking that it was silly to be doing something so dangerous. And then, she lost her balance, and started to wobble. A second later, she fell off the railing and into the water, disappearing from my view.”
The woman ran over to the Esplanade railing and looked down. “This girl was very fortunate, because there are many large rocks at the base of the Esplanade wall in that area, and she missed these. She also landed in shallow water, so she was in no immediate danger of drowning.”
The bystander’s sense that the girl had been lucky was quickly tempered, however, when she realized, “that there is no way out of the water, once you’re in. There are no ladders or stairs that would allow somebody to get back up to the Esplanade. That also means that there’s no safe way to get down into the water, to help somebody. And there is no safety equipment, like life preservers, that can be thrown into the water to help somebody.”
This witness soon began to fear that the situation might quickly turn into a more serious emergency. “The girl was standing in waist-deep water, and she was bleeding. If she walked in either direction, toward West Street, or out toward the Hudson, the water might be over her head. And if she moved toward the river, there was also a chance of being swept downstream, and out to sea.”
The girl had two friends from Stuyvesant with her, who quickly became agitated, because they wanted to help her, but had no means of doing so. “The kids with her made several calls to 911,” the witness recalls, “but they were almost hysterical. So I, and several other adults, also called 911, and explained precisely where we were. And then we began waiting.”
The bystander says that, “we kept talking to the girl, telling her not to move. She seemed slightly dazed or disoriented, and I was starting to worry more. I was confident everything would be okay, though, because help was on the way, and couldn’t take more than a few minutes to arrive. But I was wrong.”
Moments afterward, an FDNY rescue boat arrives at the scene of the incident, behind Stuyvesant High School, and deploys a ladder, which the student (assisted by a fire fighter) ascends to safety.
She recalls, “we waited three minutes, then five minutes, and then ten minutes. And nothing happened. Nobody came. Some of the other adults made more calls to 911, and were told that emergency responders were very close, and would get there any minute. So we kept talking to the girl, reassuring her, and waiting.”
After an additional five minutes, the witness says, “I couldn’t take this anymore, so I walked up the stairs next to the Tribeca Pointe apartment building, which brought me to Chambers Street and River Terrace. There, I began looking for a police officer or a security guard.”
“I didn’t have to go far,” she recalls. “After walking just a few steps along River Terrace, I spotted a police van parked at the curb. I ran over and tapped on the window and explained to the officer what had happened. He agreed to meet me back at the location where the girl had fallen. He turned the van around and drove it back to Chambers and West Streets, where he was able to pull it onto the Esplanade.”
“I walked back and arrived as he was pulling up,” she remembers. “By this time, it was about 18 or 20 minutes after the first 911 call for help. The police officer climbed over the railing and was preparing to jump down into the water, next to the girl. But that’s when the cavalry arrived. Several more police cars, a couple of ambulances, and a fire truck all pulled up to the location, within a few minutes of each other. After another minute or so, a Fire Department boat sped into the cove between the Esplanade and Pier 25. By this time, the girl was sitting on the rocks, shivering and crying.”
The police and fire trucks threw life preservers into the water, and the Fire Department passed a ladder down over to the rocks, which was buttressed against the Esplanade wall, allowing several police officers and fire fighters to descend to the rocks and water below, and reach the girl. After determining that she had no injury that would be made worse by moving her, they guided her up the ladder, and into a waiting ambulance.
“By this time, several teachers and staff from Stuyvesant High School had come outside, and were telling students to back up and put their phones away,” the witness remembers. One of the students answered, ‘yeah, right — like this isn’t going to be on social media by tonight.'”
After the girl had been taken to Lower Manhattan/New York Presbyterian Hospital for observation, “the officer I had originally spotted on River Terrace came and found me, because he wanted to say thanks for alerting him,” the witness says. “That was nice of him, but I’m still concerned that it took so long for help to arrive. If that girl had hit her head on the rocks, or fallen into deeper water and been dragged into the river by the current, 20 minutes would have been too long to save her. She could have been killed. So the fact that she is still alive is mostly a matter of luck.”