Let’s do all we can to save lives

Monday afternoon, a visitor to Kauai, 31-year-old Jamie Zimmerman of New York, drown.

By now, you’ve probably heard what happened. Police believe she was trying to cross the Lumahai River on the North Shore when she slipped and fell. Witnesses said she was swept out to sea and they called 911. Lifeguards from the Hanalei Pavilion did their best, responding via jet ski to the scene within minutes. They found Zimmerman, unresponsive, about 200 yards east of the river mouth. Lifeguards immediately brought her to shore and began administering CPR with the help of Hanalei firefighters. A bystander with a pickup truck helped rescuers transport Zimmerman from the beach to a nearby parking lot, where medics continued CPR. She was transported to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

We wish that was the only story of a person who drowned here. But it’s not. It’s one of many. In the past five years, there have been 46 drownings in Kauai waters. Thirty-four were visitors; 12 were residents. Here’s the breakdown:

w 2011 – 14 drownings: 10 visitors, 4 residents, 12 male, 2 female

w 2012 – 6 drownings: 2 visitors, 4 residents, 5 male, 1 female

w 2013 – 15 drownings: 12 visitors, 3 residents, 11 male, 4 female

w 2014 – 6 drownings: 5 visitors, 1 resident, 4 males, 2 females

w 2015 – 5 drownings: 5 visitors, 4 males, 1 female

And there have been countless close calls. The numbers could have been higher if not for the quick actions and skills of Kauai’s lifeguards and some heroic residents who in some cases jumped to the rescue.

There’s no doubt, the ocean is powerful. Almost everyone who lives on Kauai knows this. And most of our visitors do, too. But not everyone does. Some simply aren’t aware of what can happen when they venture into the ocean. You don’t have to be in deep waters to get in trouble. Its rip currents and waves can quickly sweep a person away.

Now, some people will be careless and overly confident in their abilities to handle themselves in the ocean. They will assume they’ll be OK and take risks. That’s unfortunate and there’s only so much you can do to keep them safe.

But some who come to Kauai for its world-class beaches and beauty are unaware of the potential to put themselves in harm’s way. They don’t know about rip current and reef breaks and stream crossings. They may not be versed in the use of snorkeling gear. They may not know to stay calm when fighting to stay afloat and instead, panic and hyperventilate. We need to do all we can to let them know.

That’s why Kauai is fortunate to have the Kauai Lifeguard Association and people like Dr. Monty Downs and Jim Jung. It’s fortunate to have the Rescue Tube Foundation and people like Branch Lotspeich and John Gillen. We’re fortunate to have the Kauai Ocean Safety Bureau and people like Kalani Vierra. We’re fortunate to have people like Andy Melamed, organizer of this weekend’s Kauai Lifeguard Association Third Wave Celebration, which is a benefit concert.

These folks are committed to keeping everyone as safe as possible. They know that organizations like the ones they represent and support are critical to not only keep residents safe, but they also recognize that if Kauai is going to market itself to the Mainland in an effort to attract visitors here because our economy depends on tourism, the island also has an obligation to make sure these visitors are aware of the ocean’s might.

That’s why there’s a water safety video that plays on a continuous loop in the baggage claim areas at the Lihue Airport. That’s why KLA recently released an updated “Kauai Beach Guide.” This guide points out quite clearly the beaches and ocean are beautiful, but dangerous, that there are “hazards.” These efforts are working. The number of drownings are being reduced. In the past two years, one resident has drown. And Downs said more can and will be done to spread the word to visitors and residents that the ocean is nothing to be careless around.

Now, some may worry visitors could go elsewhere, that they’ll stay away from Kauai, if ocean dangers are publicized too much. If that happens, if someone cancels a room reservation, then so be it. Let’s err, as they say, on the side of caution. Above all, let’s focus on safety. We hope no one would want to argue otherwise. This is, and only should be, about saving lives.

•••

Ocean safety tips

w Learn to swim

w Swim near a lifeguard

w Swim with adult supervision

w Swim with a buddy

w Call for help if buddy is missing

w Obey all posted warning signs

w Participate in Junior Lifeguard program

w Wear fins when boogie boarding

w Know how to use a rescue tube.

w Stay calm if caught in a rip current. Upon release, signal for help and wait, or swim to shore if you can.

Courtesy of the Kauai Lifeguard Association

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