A terrible loss: Family, friends recall heart-wrenching search for missing fisherman
HANA (HawaiiNewsNow) - It has been nine days since the body of a young fisherman was found by his family and friends in East Maui.
Ikaika Chong Kee Jr., 24, went fishing by himself in Hana on April 22nd and never came home.
Chong Kee Jr. loved to hunt, dive and fish. Those who knew him best say he was happiest in the mountains and in the ocean.
“The last conversation we had on the phone, he was telling me how good his life was,” said one of Chong Kee Jr.’s friends, Keaghan Gomes.
“Just a hammer all around ― diving, fishing, hunting. He did it all,” said another friend Craden Kailiehu.
So it was very strange when he didn’t come home from his solo fishing trip in Waianapanapa.
Early the following morning, there was a knock on Ikaika Chong Kee Sr.’s door.
“A policeman … knocked on my door,” said Chong Kee Sr. “And he told me, ‘Your son is missing.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he went fishing,’ and I said, ‘No, if he went fishing, he’ll be fine.’”
Chong Kee Sr. drove out to East Maui anyway.
As the day unfolded, the search party grew with first responders and volunteers both in the ocean and along the coastline.
“Had fire rescue flying helicopters, the Coast Guard flying outside, rescue divers diving with tanks, rescue divers free diving. A full search going on and I was just blown away. Then it started hitting me like my nephew’s somewhere in this water,” said Chong Kee Jr.’s uncle, Kurtis Chong Kee.
Chong Kee Sr. said the waves were massive that day.
“I mean it would shake, we were on the rocks, and it would shake the ground,” he said.
Chong Kee Jr.’s sister Lana says despite the chaos that day, there was one calm spot in the ocean.
“I decided to sit on this specific rock and ... I began to talk to him,” said Chong Kee Jr.’s sister Lana through tears. “I told my brother ... please, I was begging him ... just show yourself so we can bring you home.”
The family said as the day went on and the surf rose, rescue crews called off the search at about 3 p.m.
However, family and friends refused to give up.
“Ran up to the dad and said, ‘I’m gonna go jump in and look.’ And he said please and thank you. And he asked me if I could handle and everything, and I said yes.”
Kurtis Chong Kee is a big wave safety expert and has protected surfers with his Jet Ski at Peahi “Jaws” for years. He was able to borrow a Jet Ski from his friend that day.
“The waves were huge. I’ve never seen waves like that in my life. Never. And I wasn’t even afraid of it,” Chong Kee Sr. said.
They went to the area where Lana had been calling for her brother. Within minutes, they found Ikaika’s body. But there was a large tiger Shark right next to it.
“I found him and there was just a huge shark, and I was telling them there was a shark. I couldn’t even function. I didn’t want to grab my friend and bring him up to his dad like that. I just I had to like shut my brain off and Kurtis and Ikaika told me please grab him,” Rista said.
“And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my friend and Ikaika or his dad.”
“He went down tied up and we pulled him up, we put him on the ski,” said Chong Kee Sr.
“To be the one that pulled his boy up, I cannot describe that. But he got to have that last moments with his boy. He had that time while we took him into the bay,” said Kurtis Chong Kee.
The Chong Kees thank the rescue crews for their valiant efforts that day.
They believe Ikaika just wanted to be found by his loved ones.
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