EXCLUSIVE: Rescuers recall saving woman critically injured by boat propellers

EXCLUSIVE: Rescuers recall saving woman critically injured by boat propellers
Graphic: Hawaii News Now
Graphic: Hawaii News Now
Graphic: Hawaii News Now
Graphic: Hawaii News Now
Image: Hawaii News Now / File
Image: Hawaii News Now / File

KAPALUA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 60-year-old Big Island woman remains in critical condition Sunday after being struck by a boat's propeller.

The accident happened during the Pailolo Challenge outrigger canoe race from Maui to Molokai on Saturday.

Hawaii News Now spoke exclusively to the two men who came to her rescue first.

"I could see all the blood in the back of the boat in the water," said Kurtis Chong Kee. "The people on the boat were freaking out and just screaming for help."

Kee and his friend DK Walsh say they were in the right place at the right time.

Just before 9 a.m. Saturday, Kee and Walsh were driving an escort boat at the race when they received an emergency call on their radios.

They say Faith Kalei-Imaizumi was on a separate escort boat when she jumped into the water to retrieve her hat that had fallen in.

Unknowingly, they believe the captain reversed to avoid running into an oncoming boat, and that's when the 60 year old got caught in the propellers.

"She was unconscious already by the time Walsh got on the boat and just pale like she was bleeding out already," said Kee.

Walsh immediately jumped into action and tried to stop the bleeding until ocean safety lifeguards arrived. "I jumped on and assessed the situation and I realized there were major lacerations to both of her thighs," he said.

She was brought ashore at D.T. Fleming Beach Park in Kapalua where emergency crews performed CPR.

Kalei-Imaizumi was initially medevaced to Maui Memorial Medical Center then transferred to Queen's Hospital on Oahu.

"It was really bad, it was the worst injury I've seen in the water," said Kee.

Kalei-Imaizumi's family tells Hawaii News Now this was her second year paddling. She's a member of Kamehameha Canoe Club Hilo, but was competing in the race with a team from Kihei, Maui.

Friends and family started a fundraising page to help in her recovery.

Kalei-Imaizumi had extensive injuries to her thigh and groin area and lost a lot of blood.

Her family says she underwent two surgeries but more is to come as she remains in critical condition.

"I'm just glad we were able to give her a hand and get a kick start on things before getting her back to shore," Kee said.

"Hopefully everything works out in the best way so that's what I'm just praying for," said Walsh.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources say its Maui enforcement officers have opened up an investigation into the accident.

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