KAPAA — Three teens drifted nearly two miles off Kapaa after their personal watercraft malfunctioned, leading to a rescue by the U.S. Coast and the Kauai Fire Department.
Max Mateo, 14, Elijah Fox, 14, Gage Mateo, 16, were aboard a three-man WaveRider personal watercraft that departed from Kapaa Beach Park landing just after 7 a.m. Thursday. They started trolling and drifted out until 8:30 a.m.
“We were fishing and just having fun,” said Max.
When they tried to start the engine and return to shore, the boys discovered that either the battery was dead or there was an electrical problem. By then, they were nearly two miles out between Kapaa and Wailua. Although it was too far to swim, they never felt in peril. They were able to reach their parents with their cellphones. Elijah called his father, who in turn called the Coast Guard.
“We knew someone would be coming for us,” Max said.
U.S. Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Craig Senczyszyn served as the boat operator of the Kauai station cutter. They happened to be out conducting weekly training operations with a helicopter at Kipu Kai.
When the call came that a watercraft was in distress about two miles off Wailua, the training stopped to respond. They were eight miles away and the helicopter arrived in a few minutes followed by the cutter in about 12 minutes — faster than a shore-based rescue from the station.
A rescue swimmer was deployed from the helicopter to check on the boys.
“They were excited to see the helicopter,” Senczyszyn said.
Had the boys been injured or with any deterioration in the weather, they have been pulled off the watercraft, he said. They were all right and the Coast Guard does not conduct salvage operations, and so remained with them about 30 minutes until the whaler boat arrived from Kauai Fire Department.
Senczyszyn said the Kauai Coast Guard station receives a few distress calls each year for disabled boaters. It is often a battery or fuel pump issue, he added. Each response is serious as the wave conditions can change from flat to eight feet in a short time. In this case, there was about a four-foot swell with five knot headwinds.
Steve Mateo said his two sons have been riding since they were very young.
The Mateo boys called their father, who learned the rescue was underway. He was upset that watercraft failed because it was started Wednesday night and Thursday morning before they went out.
“I felt really super good when I saw them coming back in,” Steve Mateo said. “I feel bad because they were stranded and I thought the ski was safe or I wouldn’t have let them go out.”