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Bodies of 2 Schofield soldiers recovered from sea

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    John Lercara
    A rescue helicopter hovered Sunday above a sailboat that ran aground Saturday near the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.

  • The 2 soldiers were swept into the ocean near Halona Blowhole.

The bodies of two Schofield Barracks soldiers were recovered Sunday, a day after they were swept into the ocean near Halona Blowhole during a large swell that hampered search efforts.

Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Kendall Ching confirmed that a body found ashore just before 7 p.m. was that of the second soldier.

The second body washed up on a rocky shoreline just east of Halona Blowhole shortly before 7 p.m., just as firefighters were wrapping up a daylong search for the man because of oncoming darkness. Firefighters had been planning to resume the search at daylight.

Ching said a large swell brought in the man’s body, which was spotted by a bystander.

A crowd  gathered at the scenic lookout as police covered the body with a yellow sheet until authorities could carry it up a hill to the roadway.

The first soldier was found earlier in the day.

The men were washed out to sea from Halona Cove at about 4:45 p.m. Saturday during rough surf conditions.

Battalion Chief Geoff Chang of the Honolulu Fire Department said the men were on the rocks taking pictures at the cove when a wave swept the 21-year-old man into the ocean. The man’s friend, 22, tried to help and was also swept into the ocean.

A third man was also swept into the water, but he was able to climb back out, Chang said.

Master Sgt. Mark St. Clair, a spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, said the three men at the cove were soldiers. He said the identities of the two men washed away are being withheld pending notification of their families and units.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends,” he said.

Chang said HFD divers found the 21-year-old man’s body underwater just outside the cove at about 6:45 a.m. Sunday. The body was turned over to paramedics and the man was pronounced dead at 7:46 a.m., an Emergency Medical Services supervisor said.

Chang said about 25 firefighters continued searching Sunday along the shore, underwater and from a helicopter and boat.

The large surf and murky water were challenges, Chang said.

Along the shore Sunday, surf was about 6 to 8 feet near the cove.

A high-surf warning was in effect for south shores statewide until 6 a.m. Monday.

John Lercara, Coast Guard chief boatswain’s mate, said the Coast Guard searched Saturday night with an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and an 87-foot patrol boat. On Sunday the Coast Guard was assisted by a Navy plane.

Lercara said that by Sunday morning the Coast Guard had searched from Diamond Head to several miles east of Makapuu.

He said the Coast Guard was using a self-tracking buoy and computer models to determine where the currents were heading in the ocean. The data showed surface currents heading east, while subsurface currents were flowing in the opposite direction.

He said the currents are complicated in the area by the rocky coastline and steep underwater drop-offs.

By Sunday morning the self-tracking buoy that started near Halona Cove had ended up past Makapuu, and a computer model was projecting objects carried by subsurface currents had reached Hawaii Kai.

At Halona Blowhole lookout Sunday morning, a large group of people gathered, overlooking the cove where the men were washed away. One woman said they were in the military and not allowed to speak with the media. She said the wife of the victim was also at the lookout.

Halona Cove, below Kalanianaole Highway, was featured in the 1953 movie “From Here to Eternity,” with stars Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embracing in the surf.

High surf also kept lifeguards busy Sunday.

A Honolulu Emergency Services spokeswoman said lifeguards made 147 rescues on south and west shores and at Sandy Beach by 4:15 p.m. Sunday. She said lifeguards also took 4,140 preventive measures to warn beachgoers before they got into trouble.

Meanwhile, two people were injured late Saturday after a sailboat they were on ran aground near Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, and a private salvage company was working Sunday to remove a 31-foot vessel.

The boat became stuck on a reef at a surf spot called Rockpile and was getting hit by waves shortly before 9 p.m. Saturday, according to an Emergency Medical Services report.

Ching said three people were on board when the boat ran aground. Surf conditions were rough at the time with a high-surf advisory in effect for south-facing shores.

Ching said a civilian went out to the boat on a paddleboard and took one person back to shore. Firefighters paddled out to the boat and brought two people back to shore and transferred them to paramedics.

The EMS report said paramedics took a 28-year-old man in serious condition and a 20-year-old woman in stable condition to the hospital. A boy of unknown age was not injured.

Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state hired Parker Marine to remove the vessel for public health and safety reasons because so many people were in the area Sunday.

Ward said Parker Marine was removing the sails and any hazardous materials and had secured an anchor to stop the vessel from moving closer to the beach. She said the officials were trying to determine whether the boat could float off in one piece at high tide or would have to be cut up and removed in pieces.

Ward said the owner of the vessel, which came from Keehi Lagoon, has insurance, and the state will work with the insurance company Monday. The owner could not be reached Sunday afternoon, she said.

The National Weather Service said surf along south shores would remain at 10 to 15 feet through Sunday night, lowering to 8 to 12 feet Monday. The current swell will gradually lower Tuesday through Thursday.

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