COURTESY OF SARA SIMMONS
Punahou School instructor Jeremiah Johnson shares a happy moment with his young daughter. CLICK FOR LARGE
Punahou teacher loses life on boat trip
Jeremiah Johnson, 36, is praised as a popular instructor
Punahou School teacher Jeremiah Johnson died Sunday while free-diving on a school-sponsored boat excursion with adults and students off Lanai.
"We're certainly feeling the loss of a very popular teacher," school spokeswoman Laurel Husain said yesterday. "He was really known for his ability to connect with kids and bring the magic of biology alive, the complexities of biology, and make it accessible to students."
Johnson, 36, an experienced waterman, was part of a snorkeling group that was taken from the vessel Rapture to a site 120 yards from a diving spot called Shark-Fin Rock on the south side of Lanai.
At about 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Johnson, wearing a mask and snorkel, dived into the water from a Zodiac boat. About 30 seconds later, a safety lifeguard noticed Johnson had failed to resurface, said acting Sgt. Nelson Hamilton, of the Maui Police Department.
The lifeguard noticed "unusual bubbling" and entered the water to investigate when he observed Johnson sinking at a depth of 40 feet, said Hamilton and Chad Ware of the vessel Rapture in a news release.
COURTESY OF SARA SIMMONS
Punahou School instructor Jeremiah Johnson is shown with his wife, Sara Simmons, and their daughter. Johnson died Sunday while free-diving off Lanai while on the research vessel Rapture, below, docked yesterday at Honolulu Harbor. CLICK FOR LARGE
Unable to reach Johnson, the lifeguard returned to the surface and informed a second lifeguard aboard the Zodiac to call rescue divers aboard the Rapture, which was docked a short distance away.
The lifeguard in the water marked the location and tried again to reach Johnson. Three rescue divers arrived four minutes after the initial assist call and recovered him a minute later at a depth of 95 feet, Ware said.
The vessel's emergency medical technicians administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation while Johnson was taken to Kaumalapau Harbor, where other paramedics and fire rescue were waiting. Personnel administered CPR, but efforts to revive Johnson were unsuccessful.
Ocean conditions at the time of the incident were calm, Hamilton said.
An autopsy was to be performed today or tomorrow to determine the cause of death.
Johnson was on the three-day, oceanography-focused excursion aboard the Rapture with 13 other adults and 98 students from Punahou School.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou School instructor Jeremiah Johnson died Sunday while free-diving off Lanai while on the research vessel Rapture, shown here docked yesterday at Honolulu Harbor. CLICK FOR LARGE
Fellow teachers and faculty members gathered at the school chapel yesterday to remember Johnson. Chaplains and counselors were made available to students.
Johnson was born and raised in Kapaa, Kauai, and graduated from Kapaa High School. He obtained a bachelor's degree in marine science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and a master's degree in biology from the University of Oregon, Husain said.
Johnson began teaching at Punahou School as a biology teacher in January 2003. Recently, he taught Advanced Placement environmental science to juniors and seniors.
Four years ago, Johnson married Sara Simmons. The couple have a young daughter.
"We were stunned and saddened to learn of the death of Academy Science teacher Jeremiah Johnson," said Punahou President Jim Scott in an e-mail to faculty and staff yesterday.
He was committed to his students, Scott said. "Jeremiah's passion for science and the environment was a source of inspiration for his students."