Scuba diver dies in Kaua’i waters

It was a busy Monday for Kaua’i Fire Department rescue and fire personnel, as a scuba diver died in Kaua’i waters, and a brush fire under investigation in Lumaha’i Valley again flared up.

Cardiac arrest is the probable cause of the ocean death of James Allen Metsger, 69, of Arizona.

Metsger was pronounced dead Monday afternoon at Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital at the West Kauai Medical Center in Waimea.

He was diving in waters north of Polihale State Park, swam back to the charter dive boat under his own power, complained of fatigue and collapsed just before boarding, said Terry Donnelly, owner and captain of Blue Dolphin Charters.

There were 27 passengers aboard, plus Capt. Roy Shepherd, who is a certified dive instructor; Matt Isham, dive instructor and first aid instructor; and Many Rowe, a certified rescue diver also trained in first aid.

Shepherd met Metsger at the swim step of the boat when Metsger was getting ready to get on the boat, Donnelly said. Metsger let go of the swim step and started floating away, seeming to have lost consciousness, he said.

After Shepherd pulled him back on board, Isham performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and began getting other passengers back onto the boat, Donnelly said.

Rowe assisted in the CPR, and another crew member called 9-1-1.

The call came in to 9-1-1 dispatch at 11:24 a.m. Monday, and four minutes later the Hanapepe fire crew was waiting at Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor in Kekaha, said Ernie Moniz, KFD battalion chief.

But it wasn’t until 11:59 a.m., 35 minutes after the call came in, that the KFD jetski from Waimea fire station was launched from Kikiaola.

The Waimea crew was responding to a call about an injured hiker at Koke’e when the marine emergency was called in, Moniz said.

No jetski is stationed at the Kekaha lifeguard station, so KFD personnel had to drive back to Waimea to retrieve the trailer and jetski.

After the captain of the 64-foot-long tour boat had trouble negotiating the harbor entrance a Hanapepe firefighter and Kekaha lifeguard aboard the jetski picked up the victim and continued administering CPR, Moniz said.

Metsger, who had a history of heart trouble but was certified to dive and had gotten clearance from his Mainland doctor to dive, was without a pulse for some time, even while still on the tour boat, Moniz said.

No foul play is suspected, and the cause of death does not appear to be drowning, according to county officials. An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death.

On Monday’s five-hour Na Pali Coast tour, the boat stopped at Makole, between Miloli’i and Polihale, to do the snorkeling portion of the tour, Donnelly said.

The trip from Makole to Kikiaola is about 30 minutes, and took about that long Monday, Donnelly said. A Na Pali Explorer boat stood by at the harbor to assist if needed.

“Its the first time I’ve had a person die in 22 years,” said Donnelly, who refunded the fares of all 27 passengers.

“There were a lot of talented and qualified people who responded. I just don’t think there was anything more that could have been done for him,” Donnelly said.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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