Kauai nears drowning record


POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This story has been corrected. See below.

PRINCEVILLE, Kauai » Four people apparently drowned in high surf Sunday and yesterday on Kauai, which is on the way to setting a new record for drownings this year, says a water safety expert.

The four deaths in such a short time is a rarity and “;a real tragic couple of days,”; said Patrick Durkin, a former Kauai lifeguard.

So far this year the Garden Isle has had 15 drownings. The record is 17, set in the 1970s, Durkin said.

After three tourists, including two sisters-in-law, died in two separate incidents Sunday, a visitor from Poland died at Hanakapiai Beach yesterday morning.

County officials closed beaches north of Hanalei Bay yesterday, and, with the swell expected to continue into today, officials advise tourists to stay well away from the ocean until the swell subsides.

But that is little consolation for family members of Heather Westphal, 33, of Washington, D.C., and Tonya Cataldo, 39, of Parker, Colo.

The two sisters-in-law were walking on a lava shelf near Queen's Bath in Princeville on Sunday when a large wave knocked Westphal off her feet and onto the rocks, said Kauai Police Assistant Chief Clayton Arinaga.

Cataldo tried to help her up, but a second large wave swept both women into the water, Arinaga said. Westphal's husband, Jason, swam to rescue them, but the current was too difficult and he returned to the rock shelf. They were eventually picked up by lifeguards from Hanalei Bay, but it was too late.

Cataldo was part of the support staff at several schools in the Douglas County School District and was the registrar at Clear Sky Elementary School, said Whei Wong, the school district's spokeswoman. She had been with the school district since 1995 and had served in a variety of roles in a number of schools, Wong added.

“;She was well loved,”; Wong added.

Cataldo leaves behind her husband, Allen, and two children.

Westphal was a marketing manager with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, a nonprofit lobbying firm of managers of emergency service organizations throughout the world.

Police also identified Hiroaki Kinjo of Saitama Ken, Japan, who died while snorkeling near Kauai Sands in Kapaa.

Yesterday a 25-year-old visitor from Poland became the fourth victim of this swell while swimming at Hanakapiai Beach, a remote section of the Na Pali Coast accessible only by a 2-mile hike.

According to witnesses, the man decided to jump into the water after the hike, but he was overcome by the strong current within minutes and was swept out to sea. A hiker alerted lifeguards at Kee Beach at 11:56 a.m. He was found about 200 yards offshore, county officials said.

Durkin said it is lack of education that causes deaths like these, especially those at Hanakapiai and Queen's Bath.

With lifeguards and “;state-of-the-art signage”; across the Garden Isle, Durkin, who teaches classes to resorts, said resorts need to let their patrons know how dangerous some of the locations on Kauai can be.

Hanakapiai is Kauai's deadliest beach, with more than 30 deaths at the remote beach since 1970. The beach along the Na Pali Coast has strong currents on small swells, and its remote location and lack of an emergency phone mean that it takes time to get help.

Queen's Bath was not a popular attraction until about a decade ago, when guidebooks published its location, Durkin said. Since then there have been at least a half-dozen drownings there.






        » Tonya Cataldo, 39, of Parker, Colo., who drowned Sunday off Kauai, was part of the support staff at several schools in the Douglas County School District and was the registrar at Clear Sky Elementary School at the time of her death. A Page A4 article Tuesday said she was an administrator in the Douglas County School District.