Dozens of volunteers combed Long Island Sound for four days
MADISON, Conn. (AP) _ Dozens of volunteers combed Long Island Sound for four days searching for a missing Special Olympics athlete, but it was a strolling camper who found the body believed to be that of 21-year-old Ramesh Mali.
A native of Nepal, Mali was last seen Thursday while in chest-deep water at Hammonasset Beach State Park, where he had been taken for an outing with his countrymen. He was presumed drowned.
On Monday, a 28-year-old camper from Monsey, N.Y., discovered a body when he peered into a hole between two large rocks of a jetty at Meigs Point.
Ari Lieberman said it was a fluke that led him to discover the body shortly before noon. Officials had said the body was found shortly before 1 p.m.
``I was straddling the two rocks above the hole,″ he said. ``A woman was nearby and she told me she thought something was in the hole. I looked down and didn’t see anything. Then I shifted, and saw a foot.″
Lieberman, who was strolling on the jetty with his two young daughters at the time, said he bent down and saw the body of a dark-haired man wedged in the rocks. He waved for a lifeguard, who alerted a medical technician, who checked for a pulse.
Authorities said the body, which was taken to the state medical examiner’s office for positive identification, was presumed to be that of Mali. The spot where the young Olympian was last seen is about a half mile down the beach from the jetty.
The body was found at low tide. Lieberman said it appeared that the body had floated into the hole at high tide and became stranded when the tide ebbed.
``The body that was discovered fits the general description of the missing Special Olympic athlete from Nepal,″ said state police Sgt. Dale Hourigan.
Mali, who was mentally retarded, had arrived in the United States on June 26 to play soccer for his country in the Special Olympics World Games in nearby New Haven.
The games ended Sunday. During the closing ceremonies in New Haven’s Yale Bowl, four military jets flew over the stadium in formation to salute Mali.
Mali’s family in Nepal said he had never been to the sea before coming to America and had never learned to swim. He went to the beach with 11 other Nepalese athletes and three adults, including a volunteer host.
The host was in the water with three athletes, including Mali, at low tide and in calm surf. The volunteer led two swimmers out because he thought they were getting nervous, authorities said. When he went back for Mali, Mali had disappeared.
Dozens of volunteers and divers had searched the shoreline nearly nonstop since Mali disappeared about 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Nepalese delegation was getting ready to leave New York on a 2 p.m. flight home when they were informed of the discovery.
``Obviously there is great sadness and regret at the outcome of this very, very sad tragedy,″ said Tim Shriver, president of the Special Olympics World Games Organizing Committee.
Olympic organizers offered to fly Mali’s family to the United States from their home in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, but they declined, Shriver said.
He said the body would be sent home to Nepal as soon as possible so that Mali could be cremated according to Hindu custom. It is Hindu funeral practice to cremate a body on a funeral pyre, usually lit by a family member, said Lekha Bhattarai, a spokesman at the Nepalese embassy in Washington, D.C.
Sargent Shriver, chairman and chief executive officer of Special Olympics International, announced a fund would be set up for Special Olympics athletes in Nepal in Mali’s name.