Maui News

Need for Lifeguard Tower at Pu‘u Keka‘a Explored

December 11, 2017, 10:16 AM HST
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Maui Now graphic. Background image courtesy Hawaiʻi Department of Health.

A proposal to move a lifeguard tower from Hanakaʻōʻō Beach Park about a mile north to Puʻu Kekaʻa (often referred to as “Black Rock”) in Kāʻanapali, is up for discussion.

The Maui Department of Fire and Public Safety will hear public input at a meeting on Tuesday as they discuss “the sheer number of fatal ocean drownings that have occurred at the location” in the past decade.

The department will also explore potential solutions to address what department officials have called a “disturbing trend.”

The subject is still in its early stages and has garnered support from Fire Chief, Jeff Murray and Maui Mayor, Alan Arakawa to the entertain the idea of moving the station closer to where the vast majority of fatal ocean drownings have occurred in Maui County.  The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 at the West Maui Senior Center.

In October of 2014, Mayor Arakawa responded to public inquiry about the potential for placing a lifeguard tower at the site.  At the time, the Mayor noted that there were no County lifeguards at Puʻu Kekaʻa because it is a non-County beach; however, the county was meeting with state and Kāʻanapali Resort officials at the time to work toward establishing a contract similar to the one for Mākena Beach.  The idea was to allow for a state-funded lifeguard tower near Puʻu Kekaʻa with a land easement provided by the land owner.

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Drownings are the leading cause of death for visitors to Hawaiʻi, according to data released by State epidemiologist Dan Galanis. With the Health Department data, Maui now averages 12-25 drownings a year. Between 2005 and 2014, there were 15 drownings in the Puʻu Kekaʻa area, 10 of them in the three year period between 2011 and 2014 (see graphic above).  New data shows that 21 drownings occurred at Puʻu Kekaʻa between 2007-2016, with 17 of them happening over the five year period between 2011 and 2016.

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According to the State Department of Health, between 2007 and 2011, there were 67 drownings on the island of Maui, 3 on Molokaʻi, and 2 on the island of Lānaʻi. The report states that there were 16 drownings (including 15 non-residents) from Kāʻanapali Beach to Hanakaʻōʻō Beach Park on the western coast, including six in 2011. There were nine drownings (including eight non-residents) from Mākena Bay to Big Beach (Oneloa Beach), and another four drownings near Molokini Island.

Recent Reported Incidents at Puʻu Kekaʻa:

Dec. 4, 2017: A 47-year-old visitor from Moorpark, California died after being pulled from waters Pu‘u Keka‘a where he had been snorkeling with family members.

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March 31, 2017: A 69-year-old woman from Bakersfield, California, was transported to the hospital in critical condition after collapsing at the beach fronting the ocean at Puʻu Kekaʻa “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali. Authorities say the woman had been snorkeling on the south side of Puʻu Kekaʻa with another family member. After feeling uneasy, the woman reportedly swam back to shore and exited the water, collapsing as she walked up the beach.

Sept. 14, 2016: A 38-year-old man from Pasadena, California was transported by paramedics to the Maui Memorial Medical Center in critical condition after being pulled unresponsive from waters on the south side of Puʻu Kekaʻa.

July 18, 2016: Samuel Williams, 67, of Texas was pulled from waters at Puʻu Kekaʻa or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali after he was found unresponsive on the ocean floor at around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 18, 2016.  Efforts to revive the man by beach-goers and emergency personnel were unsuccessful and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

July 5, 2016: 47-year-old Joseph Ramaikas of New Jersey died after efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was snorkeling about 75 yards from shore when he became distressed and yelled for help.

Dec. 27, 2015: A 36-year-old man from Korea died after being found unresponsive in waters near Puʻu Kekaʻa or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali.  Maui police say Jong Kwan Lee of Hewseong-SI Gengi Do, South Korea had entered the waters fronting the Sheraton to snorkel.  A bystander observed Lee floating face down in about knee deep water.  He was pulled to shore by bystanders.  Despite their efforts, the man died at the scene.

Oct. 25, 2015:  Emergency crews on Maui responded to a report of an unresponsive man pulled from the ocean near Puʻu Kekaʻa.   Fire officials say beachgoers found the man floating unresponsive in the waters south of Puʻu Kekaʻa, and pulled the victim to shore. After several cycles of CPR and receiving a shock by the AED, the man regained a pulse and began breathing on his own.  Officials said the man, a 30-year-old from Korea, is visiting with a female companion.

Aug. 24, 2015: A 51-year-old visitor from Roslyn New York died after being pulled from waters at Puʻu Kekaʻa or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali.  Police say the man was found face down approximately 15 to 20 feet from shore.  The man has since been identified as Mitchell Feinstein.

Oct. 26, 2014: Rescue crews were unable to revive a visitor who was pulled from waters north of Pu’u Keka’a or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. Maui police have since identified the man as Alva Sanders, 80, of Kennewick, Washington.

Sept. 21, 2014: Woonsaek Baek, 31, of South Korea was pulled from the water at Pu’u Keka’a or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali after he was found motionless in the water.  The incident was reported at around 3:24 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.

June 25, 2014:  A visitor from San Bernardino, California died after being pulled from the ocean in waters off of Puʻu Kekaʻa or Black Rock in West Maui on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Maui police say beach goers found 63-year-old Eugene Chu floating motionless and face down in the ocean about 75 yards from shore.

May 30, 2014: A visitor from Missouri died after being pulled from waters in Kāʻanapali.  First responders were called to the beach area behind the Sheraton Maui, located along Kāʻanapali Parkway in West Maui.  According to police reports, beach goers assisted the victim to shore and began CPR after finding the man unresponsive while snorkeling about 20 feet offshore.  Attempts to revive the man were unsuccessful and the victim died, police said.

Aug. 30, 2013: A 25-year-old visitor was critically injured after reportedly jumping off the back side of Puʻu Kekaʻa or Black Rock in the Kāʻanapali area of West Maui

Aug. 7, 2013: A 41-year-old California man was last seen departing from the Kāʻanapali Villas to snorkel in the ocean at around 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.  Family and friends tell authorities that the man failed to return after several hours, and he was reported missing by friends.  The body was spotted by Air-1, and rescue divers from the Lahaina rescue boat made the recovery. “There were no signs of life,” authorities said.

July 27, 2013: A 50-year-old visitor died after being pulled from the water at Puʻu Kekaʻa or “Black Rock” in Kāʻanapali.  The man was reportedly snorkeling with family members when the incident occurred. Police later identified the man as Michael Taugher of Benicia, California.

Aug. 17, 2012: A 51-year-old California man was transported to the Maui Memorial Medical Center in critical condition after being pulled from waters fronting the Sheraton Maui Resort in Kāʻanapali. The man was swiming at Puʻu Kekaʻa prior to being pulled from waters by bystanders who found him unresponsive. The man regained consciousness just before medics arrived.

June 17, 2010: A 54-year-old woman from Colorado was reported missing in waters near Pu’u Keka’a. Officials say the woman was last seen snorkeling about 150 yards from the Sheraton Maui Resort.  The search for a missing snorkeler was suspended after four days of search efforts turned up no signs of the missing woman.

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