Visitor drowns off Ha‘ena Beach

HA‘ENA — A 32-year-old Wisconsin man died Friday after being brought to shore by a lifeguard at Ha‘ena Beach Park. The lifeguard administered CPR for more than 30 minutes before medics arrived in an attempt to save the man’s life.

Chester Stoda of Black River Falls, Wis., was SCUBA diving with a friend from Texas near Tunnels Beach, according to the Kaua‘i Fire Department. Lifeguard John Cammak, stationed at Ha‘ena Beach Park, noticed the two enter the water at around 3 p.m. and observed the pair diving and periodically surfacing for more than an hour.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. a diving companion returned to the beach while Stoda remained in the water to snorkel. The lifeguard continued to observe Stoda as he snorkeled and drifted closer to the waters in front of the lifeguard stand.

At around 5 p.m., as Cammak was closing up the lifeguard stand he observed Stoda still in the water about 50 yards offshore and decided to swim out to see if the man needed assistance. He reached Stoda who was unconscious, and brought him back to shore, where beachgoers retrieved the first aid and communications equipment from the lifeguard stand.

A KFD fire engine arrived on scene at 5:30 p.m. and assisted with CPR until an ambulance arrived soon thereafter. Medics transported the victim to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7:32 p.m.

North District Lifeguard Supervisor Jim Ingham praised Cammak for following his instincts and making heroic efforts to save Stoda’s life.

“John felt something wasn’t right, so before closing up for the night he felt compelled to swim out and check on Mr. Stoda,” Ingham said.

“Although ultimately the victim couldn’t be revived, John and others on the beach did everything they could to assist. John’s actions truly represent the dedication, commitment and skill of our lifeguards.”

KFD said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.

The U.S. Army 8th Engineer “Trojan Horse” Battalion announced the drowning on its Facebook page and noted that Stoda was a soldier assigned to the 937th Engineer Company. A memorial is scheduled for Stoda on Tuesday at COP Dashtu (Jelawur), Afghanistan.

“He was an exceptional Soldier and friend to all with whom he served,” the Facebook message states.

According to “Drowning Deaths in the Nearshore Marine Waters of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, 1970-2009,” a recent report by Kaua‘i scientist Charles Blay, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury and death on Kaua‘i, with its uniquely hazardous waves, variable coastlines and changing conditions. More than 300 drownings have occurred since 1970 and nearly 75 percent have been visitors.

The report notes Ha‘ena area beaches as some of the most dangerous.

In his recommendations, Blay said the best prevention is for swimmers to be aware of particular hazards at any given beach and to have knowledge of the best measures to take if they find themselves in a hazardous situation.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@


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