Police call off Lake Ronkonkoma search for night

Fire and police dive teams left Lake Ronkonkoma on Thursday evening, Aug. 14, 2014, after hours of searching for a swimmer in distress, but Suffolk police marine officers were still looking by boat. Suffolk police said a man came out of the lake shouting for help just before 3:30 p.m. and a bystander called 911. (Credit: Stringer News Service)

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Divers and police searched into the night for a missing kayaker seen disappearing into Lake Ronkonkoma Thursday afternoon after his life vest popped off.

A witness called 911 about someone in distress just before 3:30 p.m., setting off an intense search, Suffolk police said. Divers from at least seven fire and police departments swam in the lake before packing up as dusk fell, leaving a police boat circling on the waters at night.

"We believe it was a kayaker," homicide Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer said. "We're investigating this as a possible drowning."

Police said the search was called off for the night due to the darkness. In addition to the Suffolk marine bureau, members of the emergency service and aviation sections, parks police and several fire departments assisted in the search.

Beyrer said police have an idea of who the kayaker is, but he declined to give other details.

But Michael Hollamby, 27, and Veronica Rico, 25, both of Ronkonkoma, said they had been paddling around in floating tubes near the beach when they heard someone in the water yelling for help.

The man seemed to know how to swim, Hollamby said, but "it just seemed like he was struggling to stay up."

Grabbing a tube, Hollamby paddled toward the man, who appeared to be in his 20s, while Rico dialed 911.

He could see the person had a life vest on, but suddenly it popped off, Hollamby said.

"I just started seeing his arms flailing," he said. "I tried to get to him as quick as possible. I jumped out of this tube, I dived down like four or five times, and I couldn't see anything."

The man in distress "just went down," Hollamby said.

At 7 p.m., the remaining police boat circled the same area of water near Lake Shore and Lake Terrace roads before docking again just before 7:45 p.m.

Beyrer said authorities cannot confirm whether the man has drowned, but said the search would continue, "and if we have to continue the search tomorrow . . . we'll do that."

Over the years, there have been several drownings in Lake Ronkonkoma. The most recent was Sammy Wiener, 40, a local unemployed security guard who drowned in June 2012 after accepting a $20 offer from three men to swim out to get their disabled, remote-controlled boat.

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