Waialua family mourns free diver's death, questions fire rescue response time

Stephanie Rego
Stephanie Rego

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIALUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Waialua family is mourning the sudden death of a man who ran into trouble while free diving in Waimanalo Saturday. Richard Matapua's family members are also questioning whether a faster response by rescue crews could have saved him.

Fire officials say there were a few factors that delayed the response, including having to hook up their rescue boat for the operation and determining how to safely bring the patient -- whose weight was estimated at 300 lbs -- to shore.

Five-year-old Brady doesn't understand that his daddy is never coming home.

"He was a good man and a big man with a big heart," Stephanie Rego, Matapua's fiancee, said through tears. "He loved his kids a lot."

Richard Matapua, 35, a security officer for Times Supermarkets and a father of three, was free diving with his brother in Waimanalo Saturday, when he ran into trouble.

"He had told the brother to call for help," Rego said. "So the brother yelled to me on shore to call for help."

Matapua's fiancee believes it took too long for fire crews to respond.

"Seeing the rescue people there not even ready to rescue or even rushing to get out there to save him, seeing that was just terrible," she said.

Fire officials say the crew from Waimanalo station arrived on scene 12 minutes after the 2:22 PM alarm. They say the normal response time to that area is about three minutes, but the crew had to first hook up the boat for a water rescue.

The battalion chief reported that CPR was in progress at 2:43 PM. That's 21 minutes after the alarm.

"I think he probably would have responded better if they had been quicker in rescuing him," Rego said.

Rego says her boyfriend of 14 years enjoyed free diving, and would always make her feel special on Valentine's Day.

"It's coming up and I'll always remember that he always bought me something," she said through tears.

Now, instead of wedding plans, she has to organize a memorial.

"I'm just shocked," Rego said. "I don't know what to say or do."

Rego says Matapua did have some health issues, including diabetes. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday to determine his cause of death.

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