Divers lucky to be alive after strong current pulls them out to sea

A perfect storm for a treacherous rescue. That’s what an Ocean Safety expert is calling a life-saving mission off Makapuu Beach Thursday afternoon.

The two divers found themselves dragged out to sea by a powerful current.

These are experienced divers, showing that even watermen can find themselves in trouble.

With at least 19 drownings in Hawaiian waters so far this year, Ocean Safety officials want to stress it’s the unforeseen dangers that can lead to tragedy.

For Jomar Matias, it seemed like the perfect day for a dive.

“I wanted to come out and actually check out what type of fish they got out here. Sight seeing basically, and on top of that, just try to enjoy underwater life.,” Matias said.

He and his friend, both experienced and certified scuba divers, headed out Thursday morning along the cliffs of Makapuu.

But within minutes, their underwater adventure turned more into a nightmare.

“We went out a little bit too far, underestimated the current,” Matias said.

A drastic change in the ocean tide created that massive current, sweeping them out to sea.

“At that time, the call came in as 100 yards off Makapuu point,” Ocean Safety Division Lt. James Sloane said. “In a matter of minutes, they were a 1000 yards off shore.

“We were just kind of yelling, we got pulled a little further out by the lighthouse,” Matias said.

Two off-duty firefighters at the Makapuu Lighthouse lookout called 911 and lifeguards began their search.

“They came past us the first time. We were just waving them down, throwing up water, like what the open water certified people tell us to do in a situation,” Matias said. “We just floated along until they turned around and went back.”

But if it weren’t for the firefighters watchful eye on the divers and their communication with Ocean Safety dispatchers, the divers may have never been found.

“That big deep ocean swell is moving at about three and a half knots because of this tide shift,” said Ocean Safety Division Captain James Howe. ” This is sort of a perfect example of the community our first responders and our off duty professionals working together cohesively to assist these two young men.”

Matias credits his diving certification for giving him survival skills.

“I was trying to stay positive. We’ll just continue paddling — that’s all you can do,” Matias said.

Conditions out at Makapuu on Thursday may not seem that threatening with surf on the smaller side and not a lot of chop, but that’s where Ocean Safety officials say there may be a bigger message.

“You really gotta understand the ocean. The ocean truly is a wilderness and like any wilderness, you go out into it, it can get you so you need to understand it and you need to respect it,” Ocean Safety Division Capt. James Howe said.

He says even the most experienced divers can get caught in the unforeseen dangers.

“It’s rough for everyone. You need to really understand your currents, please, especially tourists, they need to know,” Matias said. “I feel blessed every day, but today’s just one of those things.”

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