Suspected drowning at Kalapaki Bay

LIHUE — A Lihue woman died after being found unresponsive in waters off of Kalapaki Bay on Wednesday.

The county confirmed the identity of the victim as 67-year-old Karen Lardizabal, who was reportedly a good swimmer and frequented the Kalapaki Bay area. An autopsy was performed on Thursday but preliminary results are not available and the county is not yet ruling the death a drowning.

According to police, a male bystander who works as a physician located the woman while swimming in the bay around 6:30 p.m. He brought the victim to shore and immediately began performing CPR until medics arrived and transported her to Wilcox Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

If confirmed, this would be the 15th recording drowning on Kauai this year.

Dr. Monty Downs, an emergency room physician and president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, said the incident demonstrates the complexity of efforts to prevent drownings on the island.

“This wasn’t a preventable drowning in my opinion,” Downs said. “I am guessing that some adverse medical event happened but it will be called a drowning first.”

Even a person who is in excellent physical shape can experience a medical incident that could result in a drowning, he said.

“The big one is to swim with a buddy,” Downs said. “Being in great shape doesn’t guarantee anything, unfortunately, and so swimming with a buddy is huge and swimming in a lifeguarded area is huge.”

The remaining 14 drownings this year include three at Kalihiwai Point, two in the Lydgate Beach Park area, and others at Poipu Beach, Hanalei Bay, Hanakapiai Stream, Glass Beach, Na Pali, the Wainiha River, Plantation Hale Hotel in Kapaa, and the swimming pool at the Club at Kukuiula in Poipu.

Kauai has increased efforts to alert visitors and residents to ocean hazards. Information pamphlets available at hotels are now distributed to transient vacation rentals after it was found that the guests were not as well exposed to safety information and accounted for more drownings.

The Rotary Club of Kapaa funded the installation of monitors at the Lihue Airport baggage terminal to play two water safety videos. The Kauai Lifeguard Association, with help from the Hanalei Bay Rotary Club and others, has put up more than 200 rescue tube stations on Kauai’s beaches.

The Ocean Safety Bureau plans to use all-terrain vehicles from existing lifeguard towers to patrol more secluded nearby beaches where no water safety personnel or equipment are present.

Gordon LaBedz, a Westside physician who helped found the Kauai chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said the breakwaters protect beaches from heavy wave action to the detriment of the beach, but that any given beach is no more dangerous than another.

The Surfrider Foundation maintains that all of Kauai’s beaches are subject to waves that produce fast currents and strong undertows. People should be aware that waves can knock someone down and hold them under, even in shallow water.

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