As his wife and witnesses looked on in horror, a Bellport man dived into the surf to rescue his 10-year-old stepson. The boy, clinging to a small, inflatable pool raft, was being swept out Friday night by a powerful current.
Edwin Barahona reached the boy, several hundred feet from the beach at Wading River Creek, only to disappear under the waves of Long Island Sound.
When two residents in a canoe pulled the boy out of the water, there was no trace of Barahona, 35.
Authorities found his body yesterday morning, not far from where he went under.
"He was a hero," said his brother-in-law, Marlon, who declined to give his last name.
Relatives did not identify the boy but said he is in good condition.
Barahona got off early Friday from his roofing job in Brooklyn when he called his wife, Judith.
"He said, 'Get ready, I'll go fishing and you guys can play in the water,' " she said. "Whenever he had the time, he wanted to be with us."
Barahona took his wife and her son to their new favorite spot, discovered Memorial Day weekend.
They arrived at Wading River Creek about 6:30 p.m., she said. After fishing, Barahona wanted to go home to catch a soccer game on television, but while putting down his fishing pole, he told his wife and stepson, "One last dip in the water."
He got in and was playing with his stepson, who was on the raft, relatives said, when the current carried the boy out.
Det. Mike Schmidt of the Riverhead Police Department, who responded to the scene, said the father may have cramped up or been dragged out by the current, which was strong Friday night. The water temperature, he said, was in the low- to mid-60s.
Jim LoScalzo, 64, who lives nearby, said he was working on his computer when he heard his neighbor Doris Leech scream that a child was drowning.
LoScalzo said that even though he has a fear of water, he didn't hesitate to run outside and grab a canoe.
"The only thing I thought of was, what if that was my kid, and what if someone had a chance to save them and they didn't?"
Leech's husband, Bob, jumped in with him and the two began paddling.
"I saw a little head bobbing just above the water," LoScalzo said. He grabbed the youngster, who was 300 to 400 feet offshore. The boy, he said, refused to let go of the raft and was crying.
"He kept saying, 'I'm so sorry. It's all my fault. I did this,' " LoScalzo said. "He kept saying 'No, papi!' "
But LoScalzo said he and Leech didn't see anyone else in the water. They brought the boy to shore and then returned to look again for Barahona.
"If we had been two or three seconds faster, we might have saved the father," LoScalzo said.
The men were soon joined in the search by the Riverhead Police Dive Rescue Unit, Wading River Fire Department, Suffolk County Police Marine Unit, U.S. Coast Guard and other fire department water rescue teams. Suffolk County police helicopters also scrambled over the scene. The search lasted until after midnight when it was called off because of fog.
Rescue teams resumed their search Saturday morning and Barahona's body was found about 8:30 a.m., authorities said.
LoScalzo said the creek is dangerous, with strong currents that can fool even experienced swimmers, and there are no warning signs. He said a fisherman died there in the mid-1990s after being swept up while standing waist-deep in the water.
Barahona met his wife in 2007 and they married a year later. "He always just wanted me to be happy," she said.
A lifelong fishing enthusiast who moved to the United States from Honduras in 1995, Barahona loved Long Island because it is so close to the water, relatives said. The family moved to Bellport two years ago.