Lifeguard Romeo Ortiz rescues Ukrainian immigrant after shark attack at Rockaway Beach in Queens

Romeo Ortiz aids a shark attack victim in NYC; the first incident at Rockaway Beach in 70 years highlights rising sightings.
  1. Lifeguard Romeo Ortiz heroically responds to a rare shark attack in NYC, displaying unwavering dedication despite the unexpected peril.
  2. Tatyana Koltunyuk, an elderly Ukrainian immigrant, faces a life-threatening ordeal at Rockaway Beach, highlighting the city’s increased shark sightings.
  3. Amid heightened shark activity, drones now patrol New York beaches, reflecting the state’s commitment to ensuring public safety during the summer.

Romeo Ortiz, a professional lifeguard, was the first rescuer to attend to the woman who was bitten by a shark on Monday at Rockaway Beach, Queens (NYC). Ortiz, 30, was nearing the end of his shift around 5:50 p.m. Monday when he heard a shore shout and sprang into action. Ironically, Ortiz sports a shark tattoo on his chest and has been a lifeguard since the age of 16.

“I’m back to work. Nothing will make me sick and tired of the beach,” he said Wednesday. While he declined to talk about the incident or the victim, he insisted he has a deep passion and strong respect for the water.

The victim was later identified as Tatyana Koltunyuk, a 65-year-old Ukrainian immigrant living in Astoria, Queens. She remained hospitalized for two days after the shark pierced her leg to the femur and tore through her flesh, exposing that bone, the largest in the human body. The young man has reported to work every summer as a lifeguard, except when he was serving a stint in the Navy.

This year was the first time he was assigned to Rockaway Beach. According to his sister, the shark-bitten victim is a familiar face on that beach. “She comes (and) swims a lot,” Kristina said.

It was the first case of a bather being attacked by a shark in New York City in nearly 70 years. But the Parks Department’s resourceful Hispanic lifeguard said in an interview with the Daily News that nothing, not even that historic ordeal, could keep him out of the ocean. In fact, he was back to work two days later.

He was soon joined by his colleague Bill McDonnell, 24. The two carried the injured woman to the sand and stopped the blood from her open wound with a makeshift tourniquet using jeans and rope. “It was wild. My brother is a hero,” his sister Kristina Ortiz said Wednesday. “He’s saved people before, but this is different, something out of a movie.”

NYPD deployed quad-rotor drones over the beach immediately after Monday’s incident but did not see any sharks. The bite occurred amid an increase in shark sightings on New York City and Long Island beaches due to factors including improved water quality and thriving populations of the bunker fish that feed the sharks. This summer, drones certified by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) are being used to monitor sharks and protect beachgoers with an estimated $145,000 investment from New York’s state budget.

There have been at least five cases of swimmers and surfers injured by sharks on Long Island beaches this summer. Last week outside NYC, some beaches were closed to the public after sightings of live and dead sharks. Experts say shark bites are extremely rare, with only 57 unprovoked cases last year in the entire U.S., according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

In May, a 15-year-old surfer was bitten by a shark on a beach in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Last summer, there was an unusual series of human encounters with sharks in and around New York. Some experts say there are not necessarily more sharks but rather more sightings now that there is more monitoring.

Even in August of last year, a bather starred in what could be considered the most unusual video of summer 2022, at least in New York, when he was caught barehandedly fighting with a shark on the shore of a beach on Fire Island (Long Island).