At about 3:00 Tuesday afternoon, a perfect day on the lakefront turned tragic for three men who decided to go into the water.
One witness broke down while trying to describe what he saw to WGNO News.
“So he was screaming for help. But nobody could really get out there and do nothin’ for him,” said Terry Watson who was fishing at the time.
William Membrano said he was enjoying a day a the lake with two friends, one of whom he considered to be his best friend. They were cooling off in the water then decided to take a brake on the shore. That’s when an orange flotation device they were using was blown by the wind into the water.
As the current and wind pushed the flotation device farther out into the water, Membrano and one of his friends decided to go after it. His best friend stayed on the shore.
Out in the water, Membrano and his other friend realized they would not be able to reach the orange floatie. Membrano says his friend began to struggle to stay above the surface of the water.
“He starts yelling, ‘Help.’ So I look at him, and I’m like, ‘Are you joking?’ He says, ‘No, I’m drowning’.”
“So I went over by him and the first thing he does is start grabbing my face, grabbing me around. He’s panicking because he’s bringing me down into the water.”
Membrano says, at that point, his best friend who initially decided to stay on the shore decided to get into the water to try to help.
“I see my best friend jumps in the water and tries to go get him. The one who was drowning first was closest to me, so I grab him and I finally pull him out of the water.”
Membrano says once he brought the first friend to shore, he began to look back for his best friend.
“When I get there, I look at my friend, my best friend, the only person who I could say is a friend to me. And I see him look at me and just give me this look like, ‘Please come help me now.’ The waves were just beating his face. And then he just started going down. And I tried to pull him up. I started swallowing water. Next thing you know, I felt him slip away from my hands, and he was gone.”
Police brought a boat and divers to the area. The Coast Guard also supplied at least one boat and a Dolphin helicopter.
New Orleans police say the tragedy could have been avoided had the trio simply obeyed the signs in the area.
“There’s signs posted,” said the NOPD’s Frank Robertson. “There is no swimming in Lake Pontchartrain. None whatsoever.”
The search for Membrano’s best friend will resume in the morning. He’s hoping more people will get involved and help.