Investigation into Deadly Catamaran Cruise Focusing on Mast

Lt. John Titchen
Lt. John Titchen

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Coast Guardsmen say the investigation into a deadly whale watching accident off Maui is to find out what when wrong, and make sure it doesn't happen again.

One man died, and two others were hurt in the incident.

The victim was identified as 48-year old Hal Pulfer of Illinois.

"Our deepest sympathies go out to his family," said Lt. John Titchen, of the U.S. Coast Guard. "It's a tragedy whenever we have a loss of life in the maritime community."

Crews are searching for the Kiele-V, which may have sank after the incident. They're looking in waters about two miles off Kahana beach, on Maui's east side.

The Coast Guard, Maui firefighters, and two other catamarans rescued the 51 other passengers.

"In this situation, someone put out a call for help, and we found the best asset we could to respond, and bring those people to shore," said Titchen.

Now, it's the job for investigators to find out what happened. Their focus is the mast.

"These types of cases do happen, particularly when the winds change suddenly," said Titchen.

Rescue personnel say at the time, winds were blowing at 20 to 30-miles an hour, with stronger gusts.

Investigators are also looking at the Kiele's safety certifications. Records show it was up-to date, and checked last September.

"We have personnel on Maui that continually conduct these checks, go down and examine a vessel for its safety, and insure that it's got the right certifications and basically able to operate safely with people aboard," said Titchen.

Hyatt hotels and resorts owns the Kiele-V. In a statement, officials say they are deeply saddened by this accident and their concern is for those who have been affected by this tragic event.

The coast guard says the investigation could last up to eight months.

One of the two people hurt was treated and released Sunday night. The second one is listed in stable condition.

Officials have not said how Pulfer died. The autopsy, that will determine that, is scheduled for Tuesday.