Nearly 24 hours after NYPD office Patrick Luca went missing, his body was discovered at 11:35 a.m. Saturday morning in the waters of Sunken Meadow Beach in Kings Park, Suffolk County police confirmed.
The 41-year-old officer from Smithtown, was discovered a mile and a quarter west of where he launched his inflatable kayak by a passing boater who noticed something floating that seemed “inconsistent” with the water surface in the area, Deputy Inspector Harold Jantzen of the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau said during a press conference on Saturday. His death is still under investigation, police said.
After the boaters alerted law enforcement, the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau, along with members of the NYPD dive team recovered Luca’s body, Jantzen said. He was not wearing a life vest when found, officials said.
“They were very suspicious of what they saw,” Jantzen said, adding, “they maintained eye contact with the subject,” before police arrived.
He said the water in the vicinity where Luca was found was searched by land and air before the discovery. “It’s our belief right now that he probably was not in that location during the course of the active search period last night,” Jantzen said.
Luca went missing after he and his 5-year-old son launched an inflatable kayak at the boat ramp at the end of Old Dock Road by the Nissequogue River, around 1:30 p.m., Friday.
A little more than an hour later, Good Samaritans found the 5-year-old boy floating in Smithtown Bay, wearing his life jacket. The boy told the rescuers that “his father went under” and didn’t come back up, officials said.
A massive search and rescue operation ensued that included, Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau, U.S. Coast Guard, local fire departments and the New York City Police Department. Searchers worked until 2 a.m. Saturday morning, and continued their search five hours later, Jantzen said.
Police are still investigating what happened when Luca and his son mysteriously fell from the kayak Friday afternoon and floated away. Search and boat conditions were considered “ideal,” on Friday, Jantzen said.
“Right now we are of the opinion that it did not capsize at the first incident location,” he added. “There was some items remaining in the small inflatable kayak that probably would have sunk had the boat capsized initially.”
“It did not appear to be swamped,” he continued, “it was not full of water when it was retrieved.”
Jantzen said medical problems don’t seem to be a factor in Luca’s drowning, but said that can change during his examination.
Luca knew how to swim, Jantzen said, adding it was “customary” for the officer to visit Smithtown Bay. He would “place his inflatable kayak in the water and travel in towards Smithtown and the Long Island Sound…he’s done it in the past.”
Officials would not disclose what Luca’s son told investigators after he was recovered, only saying, the 5-year-old was in good shape when he came out of the water. “He was chilly, but he warmed up quickly,” Jantzen said.
Jantzen said the search hit close to home because they were searching for a fellow officer. “You know, a middle-aged man out in the water enjoying the day with his son. It’s really heart wrenching to think that the two of them were doing what they enjoyed together and it ended up in tragedy.”
“We were hopeful early on that perhaps he would have been able to make his way back to the shoreline,” he said, “and be reunited with his son once again.”