Coast Guard rescues missing kayaker off Maui

A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boat crew from Station Maui patrol off the coast during Operation Kohola Guardian, Jan. 16, 2018. Operation Kohola Guardian is a cooperative effort between state and federal agencies to reduce risk to mariners and whales in Hawaiian waters while supporting conservative efforts to ensure future generations have the opportunity to experience these animals in their natural habitat. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur/Released)

Coast Guard Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium file photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur

HONOLULU — A 62-year-old woman is safely ashore after the Coast Guard rescued her off Maui early Monday morning.

A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew from Coast Guard Station Maui initially spotted Jill Lee at 12:45 a.m. on radar about a quarter mile offshore swimming with her kayak in tow.

Moments later an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, searching the same area, also spotted Lee and took steps to lower a rescue swimmer who assisted her to shore and administered first aid before Emergency Medical Services arrived. EMS took Lee back to Camp Olowalu where she denied further medical attention.

“Sunday was initially flat calm, but the weather conditions changed significantly in less than 20 minutes due to a storm squall,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas Geary, coxswain Coast Guard Station Maui. “It made all the difference that someone knew she was out on the water, cared enough about her to call it in and despite losing her paddle she had the good sense to stay with her kayak. Our crew initially located her in the dark by the outline of her kayak on the radar. We do recommend water sports enthusiasts carry a light, sound producing device and a personal locator beacon if possible. These tools can make it much easier to find someone, especially in reduced visibility.”

At 7:20 p.m. Sunday, watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center received a call from Maui dispatch notifying them of the missing kayaker prompting the search. Maui dispatch was originally notified by Lee’s friend who came ashore looking for her thinking she may have paddled in on her own. Lee was reportedly kayaking with the friend when weather separated them around 4 p.m. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Galveston Island (WPB 1349), homeported in Honolulu, and Maui Fire Department crews also assisted in the search.

Weather on the scene during the search was reported as 20 mph winds, with heavy rain and 3-foot seas.

According to Lt. Brock Blaisdell, search and rescue coordinator at Sector Honolulu, the survivor, in this case, was prepared and very familiar with the limitations of her kayak in ocean conditions. A fast-moving and forceful weather front moved in and turned a good situation into a bad situation quickly. Lee was in the water for hours and a good attitude coupled with wearing the proper lifejacket was crucial. Coast Guard crews are vigilant and ready to respond in all weather conditions leveraging training and experience to bring cases to a successful conclusion.

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