Coast Guard calls off search for missing swimmer at Waimea Bay

Local News

UPDATE: The Coast Guard suspended their active search for the missing swimmer off Waimea Bay at 11:00 p.m., Sunday, before transferring the lead to Honolulu Fire Department who will attempt further location and recovery through Monday.  

Hanna Wänerskog, 20, remains missing.

“This incident is tragic and unfortunate. The decision to suspend an active search is always a difficult one,” said Lieutenant Commander Brock Blaisdell,  Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. “It is a decision based on survivability factors and time always works against us. Our deepest condolences go out to the Wänerskog family and Hanna’s friends. “

Coast Guard helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and cutters along with helicopters from the U.S Navy conducted 40 searches encompassing over 485 square miles. Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu Police Department and Ocean Safety also utilized helicopters, jets skis and ground teams in the three day search for Wänerskog. 

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The U.S. Coast Guard, Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu police and Ocean Safety are still searching for 20-year-old Swedish national, Hanna Wänerskog, Saturday.

Waimea Bay Beach Park was closed on Saturday and will remain closed until the search is called off or searchers find the woman.

Waimea Bay lifeguards were off duty at 5:30 Friday evening. Witnesses told officials they were at Waimea Bay to watch the sunset, which was at 6:25 p.m. HFD received a swimmer in distress call at 6:56 p.m. and the Coast Guard was called to assist around 7:30 p.m.

Originally, eyewitnesses told the Coast Guard Wänerskog had jumped off the rock at Waimea Bay. However, a surveillance camera at Waimea Bay captured the moment Wänerskog was standing on the beach with two other people when all three were overcome by a wave and swept out.

The two people with her made it back to shore. 

“She was at the beach here, close to the rocks, in about ankle-deep water when a swell came in and knocked her and her friends over unfortunately she was swept out,” explained Sr. Chief Petty Officer Jason Bryant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“She was last seen attempting to swim back in but then a wave overcame her and that was the time she was last seen,” said Sr. Chief Petty Officer Bryant.  

According to the video and photo that the U.S. Coast Guard has, Wänerskog was fully clothed and was wearing black shorts and a black shirt.

The Coast Guard dropped buoys in the water Friday night to help identify the swell direction which was heading towards Haleiwa.

“At this point, we’re still searching for her, we still believe there’s a chance she might be alive so we’re going with that fact as of right now and we’re going to continue searching based on that assumption,” said Sr. Chief Petty Officer Bryant.

The Honolulu Fire Department resumed its search before 6 a.m. on Saturday, February 7.

Honolulu Ocean Safety joined in the search at 6 a.m. Saturday.

“We do have our rescue craft actively patrolling and we have ocean safety personnel patrolling on ATV’s, at high vantage points, and also patrolling some of the rocky coastline on the Haleiwa side of Waimea Bay,” said Lt. Kerry Atwood, Honolulu Ocean Safety.

Lt. Atwood said the ocean conditions were poor on Friday.  

“Where the swimmer entered the water, we did have that area closed off the entire day due to extremely hazardous conditions,” Lt. Atwood said.

He said the area remained taped off when lifeguards ended their shift at 5:30 p.m.

Searchers said they are having a difficult time with current ocean conditions.

“We do have surf in the 12-15 foot Hawaiian range,” said Lt. Atwood. “It doesn’t look as big as it really is due to the strong north winds that are kind of beating down the surf making a rescue effort very difficult today. We’ve also had a lot of rain and our water clarity is very poor due to all the runoff.”

The Coast Guard and HFD are using thermal imaging and drones in their search.

An approved FAA temporary flight restriction of 1,000 feet and below is in effect until 8 p.m. Saturday.

Involved in the search are:

-MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Barbers Point

-U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ahi (WPB 87364) crew

-U.S. Coast Guard Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134) crew

-U.S. Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 MH-60R Seahawk helicopter crew

-Hawaii Fire Department helicopter and rescue rig crews

-Hawaii Police Department Helicopter crews

-Off-duty Ocean Safety members

“It’s tough conditions, it’s dangerous for our crews to be out there,” said Sr. Chief Petty Officer Bryant.

“There are folks doing some pretty high-risk stuff. Again, we believe she’s alive so it’s worth the search but with the surf going on right now this is why the Coast Guard always recommends paying attention to surf signs and rip current reports to prevent this kind of a situation from happening.”

If Wänerskog is not found on Saturday, Waimea Bay will remain closed on Sunday.

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