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Swimmer drowns off Portlock


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POSTED: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Honolulu man in his 20s died yesterday while swimming with friends at Portlock Point between China Walls and Spitting Cave, an area known for treacherous waters.

Although “;it's relatively flat with occasional sets,”; said Kyle Niiro, 19, who was swimming with friends nearby, “;you can get swept off the rocks and dragged.”;

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“;It's very deceiving,”; said Devin Dela Pena, 20, of the ocean conditions yesterday. He was diving into the water from the rocky cliff area of China Walls.

Bystanders in a back yard on the Koko Head slopes spotted the man in trouble in waters below and went down to help, said fire Capt. Terry Seelig, who said he had reportedly gotten separated from his friends.

When fire rescue personnel arrived shortly after the 2:40 p.m. call, the bystanders and others at the scene had already pulled the man out of the water and onto a ledge, and begun cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Seelig said.

Fire personnel airlifted the man to Portlock Drive, and from there an ambulance transported him to Straub Clinic & Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, officials said.

Four years ago there was a string of three deaths in the area by July—a 17-year-old Colorado girl who jumped in near China Walls, a 29-year-old Louisiana man swimming near Spitting Caves and a 45-year-old Kailua man who was trying to help a female friend out of the water.

On May 14, 2004, a 20-year-old man drowned, and another was seriously injured, after they and a co-worker went in for an afternoon swim off China Walls. The man who drowned reportedly panicked, unable to get out of the choppy water and onto the rocky ledge, despite help from his friend.

Last year a 58-year-old fisherman was swept off the rocks near China Walls and died, and a female surfer received minor injuries and had to be rescued.

There was a small south swell with about 2- to 4-foot surf, said Emergency Services Department spokesman Bryan Cheplic. Ocean conditions were moderate with light winds.

“;It's usually most dangerous when the surf is big, so I'm surprised there was an incident today, because the surf isn't particularly big,”; said John R.K. Clark, a retired deputy fire chief, former city lifeguard and author of the “;Beaches of Hawaii”; series of books.

“;It's just getting out of the water because there's no beach,”; he said. “;If someone's not a strong swimmer and they jump off the rocks and they're not able to climb back up the cliff face, they might get in trouble.”;

The 62-year-old avid surfer and Portlock resident, who has a view of China Walls from his back window, noted there had not been a drowning there recently.

Cheplic encourages people to swim at a guarded beach, and urged people to heed warning signs.