Rescue tubes not used in double ocean drowning off Maui

Local News

Two Korean visitors were pulled from the water at Keawakapu Beach in Kihei on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Officials still aren’t sure what happened, and tell me no one saw the couple entering the water. 

Last year, a woman from Canada died after being found unresponsive in the water at the same beach. Just two days later, a Chinese visitor was pulled from the water at Keawakapu and rushed to the hospital. 

Since there isn’t a lifeguard stand at Keawakapu Beach, local residents decided to add rescue tubes last summer. The rescue tubes were placed on 40 beaches across South Maui as a community project funded and maintained by the Rotary Club of Kihei/Wailea.

The tubes are positioned every 300-feet at various beaches in South Maui and are meant to provide buoyancy for distressed swimmers until help can arrive.

“We know that in this past year we’ve saved nine lives for sure that we know about with the rescue tubes,” said Gary Redfern, rescue tube chair for Rotary Club Kihei/Wailea. “Seven of those rescues were actually on the Keawakapu Beach area so we have them in good places.”

Maui ranks high when it comes to ocean drownings. Between 2007 and 2016, there were 171 drownings. 72% were visitors and 62% of the victims were snorkeling or swimming.

“Keawakapu Beach in particular is very, very problematic because there are heavy rip tides there that are dangerous,” Redfern added.

In addition, Batallion Chief of Maui County Ocean Safety Kevin McAfee tells KHON that the trade winds pick up heavily in the afternoon in South Maui. 

On July 1, 2018, four people were rescued with the devices. Two of the tubes were deployed, and one was able to hold three people, while the fourth person was on his own tube.

According to fire officials, ocean conditions at the time of the rescue were rough and windy. 

“Everyone was okay no medical attention required, and really because of the rescue tubes it became a non-issue as much as it can be,” McAfee said. 

However, the Rotary Club tells KHON that their life-saving devices are being vandalized, and right before the July 1 incident, the tubes at Keawakapu were damaged and luckily fixed in time. 

“It’s a great program but we’re challenged to keep tubes in place and we’ve done a good job at it,” Redfern said. 

“If you see damage to the tubes, look at pole it has a phone number and tells you where to call and we can make sure we can keep them in place and do our job,” he added. 

MFD says ocean conditions can change in an instant and recommends people pay close attention to their surroundings, and consult a lifeguard about ocean conditions if one is available.  

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