Steven Middleton, 21, of Brooklyn, and his buddies had been eating at a nearby diner, celebrating a friend's college graduation. Middleton himself had posted on Facebook that he expected to graduate from Medgar Evers College, part of the city university system, next year.
Police said no signs of Middleton turned up during their search, who is presumed drowned. It was suspended because of weather conditions.
Darius Adrien, one of the group, said they all knew how to swim. But he said they were surprised by the strong current when they jumped off a pier on the Brooklyn side of the river.
Manuel Aguila told the New York Post he witnessed both the beginning of the swim and its tragic end.
"I was out here and I saw four or five kids jumping in the water having fun. They were swimming over to the broken pier and jumping off. They looked like they were having a good time," he said. "When I came back, the kids were screaming help at the NYPD raft that was passing by. One of the kids was on the phone with 911, I heard him saying 'he went under.'"
Adrien called Middleton "a good guy" and said everyone described him as "the brain of the operation." He said it was the view of Manhattan that drew the group to the pier.
"We come out here, you know, because that's the dream out there, everything you ever wanted," he said.