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Drowning dangers around Oahu

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Oct 20 2013 02:24:00 PM HST

Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu's most popular and scenic spots, but it is also at the top of a deadly list as the island's number one place for drowning.

HONOLULU -

It is one of Oahu's most popular and scenic spots, but it is also at the top of a deadly list as the island's No. 1 place for drowning.

Click here to watch Paul Drewes' report.

The surf is up and so is the level of alert by lifeguards over the dangers of bigger waves. Surfers can get in over their heads and need to be rescued. There has even been some notable big wave deaths before, but for the most part, big waves are not usually deadly.

"Big waves do present a challenge for people who are unfamiliar with the breaks or the currents, but the data shows when the surf is flat or really small is when people are perishing," said Jim Howe, the Ocean Safety chief of operations.

At calm and tranquil places like Haunama Bay, thousands come every day to see colorful fish and abundant sea life in the crystal-clear waters. Many put on a mask and fins to snorkel for a closer look - some even for the first time.

"I've done it once before and enjoyed it. I brought my wife with me to see if I can get her to try it out as well," said Hickam resident George Truini.

"It is very simple to do, you're just basically floating on top of the water," said Ohio resident John Garchar.

But Howe said that thinking is wrong.

"People think snorkeling is benign, you just float. Snorkeling is quite strenuous," Howe said.

Small waves, currents and unfamiliar equipment can make the activity more challenging. For lifeguards, the challenge is spotting a drowning victim from the hundreds of people already floating face down in the water.

"There is no yelling, no screaming, no sign of distress. They just stop in the water and that's a tough signal when you have all these people out there and you are trying to keep track of them all," said Howe.

Snorkeling and swimming are the two most common activities of drowning victims. So far this year, four people have died snorkeling at Haunama Bay. Nine people have died snorkeling there over the past five years as well.

The latest drownings did not happen in the deep part of the bay, but instead in very shallow waters.
"Those victims were in 3 feet of water or less. They could have stood up," said Howe.

He added more lifeguards would not make much of a difference, but educating visitors might.

In about two weeks, City and County of Honolulu personnel will start up an online program using social media to teach foreign visitors about Hawaii's hazards and show them what they can do to stay safe in the water.

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