Tragedy struck twice at Hanauma Bay when a couple from Washington State drowned while snorkeling there Friday.
The beauty and tranquility of the popular attraction quickly turned frantic as lifeguards responded to an emergency call in the water.
Visitors were instantly alarmed. “Everybody, we ran to the shore and then I saw a lifeguard jump into a jet ski really fast and ride directly to that corner,” said Jennifer Ren, a visitor from China.
According to Emergency Medical Services, a 60-year-old man and his 55-year-old wife were found unconscious in the water around 10:30 a.m.
They have since been identified as Robert and Jane Jones of Olympia.
A hiker spotted them floating face-down approximately 600 yards from shore, realized they were in trouble and called 911.
“Unfortunately, what happens with snorkeling is you swallow water and you panic and you drown and you’re not waving your arms, so there was no alert that these people were in any sort of trouble,” said EMS spokeswoman Shayne Enright.
Warning signs were posted all along the beach. Strong currents and strong winds may have been factors that got both snorkelers in trouble.
Enright says people are allowed to swim in the area where the couple was found, but with the conditions, you need to be a strong swimmer.
“To know that Mother Nature can change at any time just standing out here, see how these winds are changing, that means the winds in the water are changing too,” she explained.
Although the water is usually calm, Hanauma Bay is actually considered to be the deadliest beach in Hawaii. According to a study released by the Department of Health, 11 people died between 2009 and 2013.
The state also says from January 2014 to January 2015, there were 12 “drowning rescues” at Hanauma Bay, but it’s not known how many of them actually died.
Officials say more deaths occur at the bay because it’s so popular and people underestimate the dangers in the water when they’re snorkeling.
“(It’s) really surprising because it looks like a very public place where there would be a lot of people kind of like, everyone’s kind of aware so it’s really odd to hear that that kind of stuff happens here,” said Sydney Taylor, a visitor from Canada.
Water rescues reported Friday, March 13:
Around 2:30 p.m. lifeguards responded to the Kahuku side of Sharks Cove when a father and 23-year-old daughter climbed up the rocks. A large wave crashed behind them and they both fell into the water. Bystanders helped them out. EMS arrived and treated the woman for multiple abrasions and transported her to an area hospital in stable condition. Ocean Safety recommends staying off of rocky ledges near high surf.
Then at around 3 p.m., Ocean Safety responded to the Mokulua Islands for an overturned kayak. Lifeguards brought four people to shore along with two kayaks and returned out to the islands to help in six stand-up paddleboarders. All were brought to shore safely and did not need medical treatment. The SUPs had no leashes and were rentals. Lifeguards also brought in all of the equipment. The conditions were windy at the time of the rescues.