Texas visitor dies during Molokini snorkel

10pm Report: Texas visitor dies during Molokini snorkel
Captain Charley Neal
Captain Charley Neal

MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the circumstances that lead to a snorkeler's death on Maui. The Texas visitor was on a charter tour off of Molokini Crater when he got into trouble in the water.

Coast Guard officials confirm four snorkelers were rescued, including 50-year-old Mark Strickert, who was un-responsive when they found him.

"The individual was laying face down in the water. The crew from the boat brought him over to our vessel and our crew began CPR while the rest of the victims were recovered by Ocean Safety lifeguards," described Erin Stapleton, the officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Maui.

According to Maui police, Strickert did not survive and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses say Strickert along with his wife and daughter were among the 12 customers aboard the Double Scoop, a tour boat operated by Scuba Shack.

"Some of the individuals entered the ocean at Molokini, however they became distressed due to the high surf, high winds, and rain," read the statement from Maui police spokesperson Lt. William Juan.

The Coast Guard is required to investigate marine fatalities involving commercial activities.

"We investigate to determine if there was any act of misconduct or incompetence, negligence or unskillfulness or willful violations of law by a person that contributed to this casualty," explained Lieutenant Commander Bill Taylor, Senior Investigating Officer of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu.

Taylor confirms one of the factors investigators will consider is the weather -- not just at the time of the incident, but prior to the boat's departure.

"The conditions yesterday on scene were 6 - 8 foot seas and 30 knot winds in the crater," said Stapleton, describing rescue conditions as dangerous. "Those conditions are very perilous. There's an investigation pending whether or not the conditions were like that when the vessel headed out in the morning," Stapleton said.

The National Weather Service confirms a flash flood watch and flood advisory were in effect. A weather bulletin also indicated sustained winds at 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 50 for the area.

Hawaii News Now called four other snorkeling tour boat operators on Maui and each one said they canceled their trips Sunday because of the weather.

Officials say they're not making any assumptions, but want to remind both visitors and residents to always use common sense in the water.

"Be aware and cognizant of the environment around you and if you're not familiar or uncomfortable, you should not either put yourself in those conditions or remove yourself from those conditions," said Taylor.

According to Maui police, two other women were also injured at the scene. Witnesses say one of them is a 23-year-old crew member who seriously hurt her back after tying a rope around her waist and jumping into the water to help rescue Strickert.

It's unclear if Scuba Shack has been under investigation or involved in a fatal accident before. According to Scuba Diving magazine's 2014 Reader Choice Awards, the company was voted "Best Dive Operation" this year.

According to the state Department of Health, on average, 13 people drown while snorkeling each year.

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