Beachgoers worked together to save three individuals from drowning in waters off Kauapea Beach on Tuesday.
Firefighters from the Hanalei Station responded to a report of multiple swimmers in distress at around 1 p.m. at Kauapea, also known as Secret Beach. Firefighters arrived to the scene to find that roughly a dozen bystanders had formed a human chain to help two individuals back to shore.
Two firefighters then jumped in to assist the third individual out of the water.
According to fire personnel, a 42-year-old Austrian man was the initial swimmer in distress roughly 30 yards off shore.
Adrian Nicholas, 34, of Kilauea, saw the commotion on the beach, grabbed a boogie board and went to assist him.
“Right as I got to him, a huge set basically came through and took us both out, so I attached him to the board so he could have something to float on and grabbed onto the leash and used that to kind of drag us both to the beach,” he said. “The people on the beach could tell we were really tired. Obviously the victim exhausted and I was having a hard time dragging him that last part.”
Noticing that both men were having difficulty, a Kauai woman, age 50, then went in and also became distressed.
While awaiting assistance from rescuers, roughly a dozen bystanders locked arms and formed a chain from the beach into the water to try and rescue the group. Officials say the chain got two men safely to shore, while firefighters arrived and assisted the woman.
“At that point, there was a little break in the surf and the human chain linked up again and they were able to get far enough to him and actually grab him and pull him in just as the firefighters were putting on their fins,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas said two other men were rescued while he made it back to shore on his own.
Officials said everyone involved showed signs of exhaustion. The 42-year-old Austrian man was transported by medics to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, while two others were treated and released at the scene.
“Rip currents are extremely dangerous and difficult to detect,” stated Fire Chief Robert Westerman. “If you are an inexperienced swimmer, or unfamiliar with the area, always speak to a lifeguard or a knowledgeable person before entering the water.”
Officials warn that water off Kauapea Beach is known for extremely strong currents and dangerous shore breaks, especially during the winter, when surf is strongest along the north and west-facing shores. Swimmers are instead encouraged to visit guarded beaches on the south and west sides, such as Poipu Beach or Salt Pond Beach.
The National Weather Service had issued a High Surf Advisory for all north and west-facing shores on that day.
“The quick-thinking and cooperation of this group of strangers likely saved three people from drowning on Tuesday,” stated Fire Chief Robert Westerman. “The rescue tube placed at Kauapea had apparently been damaged. The lanyards were cut off, making it unsafe for anyone to use in a rescue. This is yet another example of how vandalism hurts our entire community.”
Photo courtesy Yolanda Courtes