The man who drowned at Donkey Beach Sunday has been identified as 49-year-old Sandy Preston of Ft. Thomas, Ky.
Preston was swimming at the isolated Eastside beach, also known as Kuna Bay, north of Kapa’a around 3:30 p.m. Sunday when other beachgoers realized the man was in distress about 50 yards off the shore. Those bystanders were able to get him to shore and administer CPR.
Because of the isolated location of Donkey Beach, it took critical minutes for rescuers to reach the scene. Though Preston was still coherent by the time emergency personnel arrived, his condition quickly worsened.
A Kaua’i Fire Department press release states that emergency crews moved the victim farther up the beach toward an arriving ambulance while continuing CPR, but Preston succumbed on the scene.
“The isolation (of Donkey Beach), that time period it takes rescuers to get there, was probably the No. 1 factor in the man’s death,” said Kaleo Hookano, a Kaua’i Fire Department lifeguard supervisor who works on the West and South shores.
Hookano was quick to point out that he did not respond to the incident and that it is too early to know the exact details of the man’s drowning.
“It just depends on what circumstances he went under,” Hookano said. “Maybe he got slammed by a wave and ‘boom’ he was out, or maybe he got carried out by the currents and tired. It only takes three minutes to drown.”
The waves at Donkey Beach come straight from the open ocean and break onto the steep beach. The backwash creates currents that can easily carry a swimmer from shore, said Hookano.
“Any normal human being that gets carried from shore just wants to get back to shore so they will swim against the current, and then they get tired,” said Hookano. “If you get caught up in a current, you swim parallel to the beach to get out of it.”
When beachgoers travel to isolated beaches, warning flags should go up in their minds, Hookano said.
“You should know to be extra cautious because you are in an isolated area,” he said. “What matters is you need to be aware that, ‘If I get in trouble, I need to be able to help myself.’ “
Those swimming at isolated beaches in questionable conditions need to pay even more attention to what they are doing, he said.
The best option, if conditions seem treacherous, is to forego the swim.
“The minute you step in the water, you have put yourself in danger,” Hookano said.
He also recommends using flotation devices.
If a swimmer does get in trouble, Hookano says, the recognized sign of distress is waving the hands in the air, out of the water.
Hookano, who has been a lifeguard on Kaua’i for more than 20 years, says guarded beaches can have anywhere from 10 to 50 rescues in a single month — and they’re an even mix between visitors and locals.
He has participated in so many rescues over the years that he’s lost count. “The most tragic, of course, are the ones when there is a loss of life,” he said.
The Preston family could not be reached for comment by press time.
- Adam Harju, editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) and firstname.lastname@example.org.