A 36-year-old man was found in New York City’s East River yesterday after chasing a volleyball and falling into the river. Police found him floating near Domino Park in Brooklyn. Witnesses said that the man fell headfirst into the water after crashing into a fence while going after the ball.

At the time of the attempted rescue, the area was still crowded with people hanging out in the park. “Dozens of onlookers gathered and some parkgoers continued playing lawn games as cops fished the man’s body from the water.”

First responders searched for nearly an hour before a NYPD scuba diver found the body just after 6:40 pm. The man was unresponsive when he was pulled from the water onto a nearby dock and was taken to Brooklyn Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“It was weird because everyone was playing bocce still. There were a ton of people watching, like the park was still packed,” said one witness. The man is assumed to have drowned, though his cause of death hasn’t been confirmed by authorities. An autopsy will determine whether it was an accidental drowning or another cause, such as a medical episode. The man’s name has yet to be released to the media.

Witnesses say that the volleyball was being used as part of a game of catch that was taking place on some nearby grass. It is unclear whether the victim was part of that game or just a passerby looking to save the day. When the man went into the water, those who rushed to see where he went say he never resurfaced. Police say that he was likely caught in a current of the river.

This is not the first accidental death to happen in the East River. In 2018 a helicopter crashed in the river killing 5 people. And while the city itself is surrounded by water, accidental drownings are not that common. The most at risk for drowning are young males, according to the CDC, and it’s not just a New York phenomenon. Gotham Gazette reported that “80 percent of all drowning victims are male, and drowning is the second-leading cause of death from injury for children from 1 to 14 years of age.”

The most dangerous part of the East River is the strong currents that can be found underneath the surface. These currents can quickly pull someone away from the shore and out into the middle of the water where they could be a victim of drowning or in danger of coming in contact with a boat’s path.

The East River is also very polluted and that is why people are advised not to swim or jump into it. “About 21 billion gallons of this combined sewage end up in the city’s waterways annually – and this sewage cocktail ends up getting dumped into the East River about 70 times a year.” That does not sound like a good place to go for a swim!

The sewage in the East River releases a bacteria called enterococci, which caused infections to humans and animals when they come in prolonged contact with it. This bacteria is why the wildlife levels in the East River have drastically decreased over the years.

Despite all of the pollution the water around New York City is cleaner than it used to be. “Throughout the past decade, over $12 billion has been invested into upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plants and improving the water quality of its harbors. In 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s harbors are “cleaner and healthier than it had been in more than a century,” thanks to numerous upgrades to its wastewater system, with concentrations of bacteria in serious decline.”