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Hawaii island firefighters urge caution after spate of missing ocean goers

                                This image shows the shoreline the Coast Guard scoured in search of a missing fisherman near Hawaii island’s Punaluu Beach on June 13.
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This image shows the shoreline the Coast Guard scoured in search of a missing fisherman near Hawaii island’s Punaluu Beach on June 13.

Hawaii island firefighters are reminding the public to use more caution when entering the ocean after a spate of fatalities and missing divers this month.

In less than two weeks, four people have died or gone missing in the ocean, and firefighters conducted another search today for a possible missing diver, said West Hawaii Battalion Chief William Bergin.

About 8 a.m., firefighters responded to a report of an unattended dive buoy off Mauumae Beach in South Kohala. Firefighters searched for about four hours, using a helicopter and personal watercraft, and received assistance from police for a shoreline search.

The buoy was anchored with a weight and a three-pronged spear was nearby.

Firefighters also notified the Coast Guard, and eventually called off the search about noon because no divers had been reported missing, Bergin said.

But before leaving, firefighters left a note on the buoy, asking the owner to call the Coast Guard when they retrieved the buoy.

Bergin said he didn’t know if more people were going out into the ocean because of the coronavirus, trying to get food for their family or seeking a chance to enjoy less crowded ocean spots, but he encouraged ocean users to follow basic safety advice, such as letting someone know where they are going and when they should be back. He added that divers should use a buoy and never go diving in the ocean alone.

On June 9, a 20-year-old diver disappeared after breaking off from a group of friends at the beach to go diving by himself off Mahukona, Bergin said. The man, identified by the Coast Guard as Malcolm Davis, was reportedly a good swimmer, but the Coast Guard and firefighters could not locate his body. The search was called off after three days.

The same day Davis went missing, firefighters responded to a man who was fishing with friends and ended up in the water off Puuhonua Road in Captain Cook. With the help of the Coast Guard keeping an eye on his body from the air, firefighters were able to recover the man’s body that night.

On June 13, Mark Lowery was reported missing after leaving a group of friends who were camping to go fishing alone off Punaluu Beach on the island’s southeastern coast. He was never found.

On June 15, a woman was reported missing offshore of Old Kona Airport. Bergin said she was seen on a surveillance camera walking along the shoreline with dive fins. Firefighters searched with the Coast Guard in the water and along the shoreline, but never found the woman.

Bergin said the increased number of people who have gone missing in the ocean recently is taxing the department’s personnel and resources. He noted those running into trouble are local residents, not tourists, and urged residents to be more careful in the ocean.

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