LIHU‘E — Tuesday’s search for a man who was swept into the ocean off Kalihiwai Point on the North Shore Monday morning turned up no sign of him and will continue today, according to county officials.
Police have identified him as Phua Chuan Chin, 62, of Singapore. He would be the ninth person in six weeks to drown on Kaua‘i and the seventh visitor.
County officials have not yet announced the incident as a drowning, but a Kalihiwai resident who asked to remain anonymous said surfers who were riding the waves off the point saw a body in the water Monday.
“Surfers out there said they saw the body pop up in the surf,” she said, adding that rescuers on Jet Skis tried to retrieve the body, but “the surf was so bad” that they couldn’t get it.
Additionally, chatter picked up on the scanner Monday indicates that rescue personnel saw a body floating about 100 yards offshore and then at least twice near the rocky shoreline.
According to witnesses, Chuan Chin was with three other individuals while walking along the rocky shoreline at around 11:30 a.m. Monday near Kalihiwai Point, just east of the Kalihiwai Bay, when he and another male where swept into the ocean by a powerful wave, county spokeswoman Sarah Blane said in a news release.
The second victim, a 47-year-old male, was able to make it back to shore and was airlifted via Air 1 out of the area. He was transported to Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihu‘e with minor injuries and has since been released.
The resident of Kalihiwai said she saw rescue personnel rappel down from the county helicopter and put the man on a basket to be airlifted to safety. After an ambulance left with the man, rescuers remained in the area, and that was when she realized that someone else might’ve been in trouble.
At about 4:45 p.m. the KFD called out the search, but according to scanner chatter, it appeared that the Coast Guard remained in the area. The resident said her son’s girlfriend saw helicopters hovering around the area until 10 p.m., pointing spotlights into the ocean.
Tuesday, Rescue 3 aboard Air 1 and the U.S. Coast Guard continued an aerial search from Waikoko to Kilauea Lighthouse.
Jet Skis assisted in a sea-based search with personnel from the Kaua‘i Fire Department and the Ocean Safety Bureau, concentrating on the area in and around Kalihiwai Bay. Kaua‘i Police Department detectives also conducted a visual search of the shoreline near the area where the incident occurred, according to county officials.
The resident said she believes the victims accessed the cliffs through a public trail adjacent to a private property owned by Hollywood actor Ben Stiller on the bluff over Kalihiwai, and that it was the same trail that two visitors from San Francisco, Calif. used on Jan. 19 before drowning. The area is “a beautiful spot for fishing,” but is also very dangerous, she said, adding that a sign should be put there to indicate its dangers.
“The guidebooks should be held accountable,” she said.
In 2011, the Legislature tried to pass a law that would give legal accountability to publishers and authors of visitor-oriented publications that referred people to places where they suffered injuries or died. But the proposal didn’t gather enough support, and subsequent amendments erased the accountability part.
County officials said the incident was in a remote area and during a high surf advisory.
“I wish I had the magic wand,” KFD Chief Robert Westerman said Monday, after hearing of the drownings and referring to a recent rash of drownings on Kaua‘i.
“There’s just more people here, and they’re just looking for more places to go,” he said.
Westerman indicated that local rental car companies may soon be getting onboard with prevention efforts by handing out beach and ocean safety guides.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in a statement that there has been a lot of support from many partners over the years to share the critical message of ocean safety with residents and visitors.
“Our entire community is in shock over these recent events especially in light of our aggressive ocean safety efforts,” Carvalho said. “We all stand even more resolved to do more to prevent these tragedies, and we need the support of everyone in our community to spread the word about ocean safety to residents and visitors alike.”
During a high surf advisory, the National Weather Service reports that pounding shore breaks and strong rip currents will make swimming difficult and dangerous. Beachgoers are urged to enter the water near a lifeguard tower.