Yet another swimmer’s death has underscored how dangerous it can be to test the waters in Lake Pontchartrain.
Police said a man identified by Orleans Parish Coroner Jeffrey Rouse as Adolfo Agu, 29, had been out on a boat with family and friends on Sunday afternoon. At some point, spokesman Tyler Gamble said, the group jumped in for a swim near the 2200 block of Lakeshore Drive.
When the group returned to the boat, they realized that Agu was missing and began searching for him. His disappearance was reported at 8:36 p.m., and his body was found by the New Orleans Fire Department about 9 p.m.
Swimmers and boaters should take precautions against rapidly changing wind and water conditions, said Dwight Williams, acting executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
“The lake is a wild environment,” Williams said. “It’s not like being in a swimming pool.”
Given how shallow the lake is, a breeze can cause waves to quickly whip across its surface. And at any given point, the lake’s depth is difficult to gauge, a fact which can make searching for distressed swimmers difficult.
The concrete walls that border the lake for most of its New Orleans perimeter pose a hazard for swimmers attempting to come ashore, especially because they often are encrusted with barnacles.
“You should actually be a good, strong swimmer,” Williams said. “If not, you should wear a life jacket. And I don’t mean little inflatable water wings.”
Williams’ group is leading the push to reopen Pontchartrain Beach, a traditional swimming spot that the University of New Orleans closed to the public after the 2012 deaths. Despite those incidents, Williams said the beach in that area is a safer environment.
“We want to a have a nice slope to the beach,” he said. “We want to have it roped off before you get over your head.”
The group will not, however, post lifeguards at the beach. That’s because of the number that would be needed to staff the waterfront and because the group believes it might encourage swimmers to test their limits.
The Red Cross, YMCA and New Orleans Recreation Development Commission all offer swimming lessons, as well as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
WWL-TV’s Meg Farris contributed reporting.