The multi-agency search for a Swedish visitor swept into the ocean at Waimea Bay dragged into the night Saturday.
First responders said Hanna Wanerskog, 20, was standing on the beach with two other people early Friday evening when all three were overcome by a wave and swept out. The two people with her made it back to shore, but the woman that friends described as “fearless,” “strong,” “determined” and “brave” is still missing.
Wanerskog was last seen treading water Friday at 6:30 p.m., a fire official said.
Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokeswoman Shayne Enright said the initial distress call came in around 7 p.m. Friday — about an hour and a half after lifeguards had ended their shift. Lifeguard hours at most Oahu beaches are from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Enright said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell approved a measure late last year to extend the working day for Oahu’s lifeguards from dawn to sundown. However, the new hours are not expected to begin until July 1, 2021.
“We likely wouldn’t have been doing this rescue if it had happened during lifeguard hours. They would have seen her and gotten her out. This is exactly why we need to extend lifeguard hours,” Enright said.
She urged residents and visitors alike to visit hibeachsafety.com to view lifeguard hours and real-time conditions before visiting local beaches.
Enright said waves were estimated at about 4 to 6 feet when Wanerskog went into the water Friday evening, but that they rose pretty quickly that night, eventually reaching heights of 15 to 20 feet.
“Search conditions were very challenging because of the wind and choppy surf, ” Enright said, adding that first responders on Saturday also rescued two kayakers who got into trouble at the Mokulua islands off Lanikai and another pair who drifted out at Waimanalo.
Wanerskog was reportedly at Waimea Bay celebrating a birthday with some friends, who she had met during the first four weeks of a three-month internship with a nonprofit called Surfing the Nations.
Logan Jacobs, leadership team member with the organization, said he was told that Wanerskog and some friends were in the shallow part of the water when a rogue wave took them by surprise.
“The swell was pretty big and they got taken out,” Jacobs said. “No one else was harmed.”
Jacobs has asked that the community pray for Wanerskog to be found and for her family in Sweden and her friends at Surfing the Nations.
“All we can do is hope and pray. We also want the community to pray,” Jacobs said. “The mood is pretty somber. (The Surfing the Nations interns) are going through a lot of trauma right now and there are grief counselors on site. She’s got family on the other side of the world who are grieving, too.”
Jacobs said Wanerskog’s friends in the internship program said she came to Hawaii to serve “the youth at risk and homeless” without expectation of anything in return.
They said she was a very caring person, who had quit her job prior to coming to Hawaii so that she could spend some time with her parents before traveling abroad.
“She wasn’t interested in impressing people. She was confident in who she was. Hanna is very loved by many in Sweden and by the internship that she was a part of.”