Blowhole dangers caught on tape

Published: Jul. 14, 2011 at 11:39 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 15, 2011 at 12:07 AM HST
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Jim Howe
Jim Howe

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A search team from the Maui Fire Department returned to the blowhole at Nakalele Point Thursday and found visitors "continued to gather around the blowhole area, despite being told that someone disappeared in that same location a few days ago," according to a County of Maui press release.

David Potts, 44, of San Anselmo, California was killed Saturday when he was knocked off his feet by a large wave and swept into the blow hole. Despite a three day search, which included divers and helicopters, his body has not been recovered.

"We urge all visitors to the location to please use caution as an obvious danger exists at or near the blowhole," the county said in its written statement Thursday.

Potts death prompted a conversation between Hawaii News Now and Jim Howe, Operations Manager with the Honolulu Division of Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services, about the dangers associated with blowholes. Together we found several videos on the internet of people doing reckless things at Nakalele Point and other blowholes.

"This kind of situation can be pretty treacherous," Howe said as he watched a clip of tourists getting knocked onto sharp rocks at Nakalele by a large set of waves.

"Really there's a whole number of hazards here. The hazard of being knocked down and pushed into the blowhole is one, which we know just happened," Howe said referring to Potts' death. "Another hazard is being knocked down and swept back down into the ocean, something that we see quit frequently."

A different video shows someone standing over a blowhole with a camera as a torrent of water erupts from the hole knocking the cameraman off his feet. And another clip shows a man tempting fate by partially straddling a blowhole as water shoots skyward.

In 2002 Daniel Dick, a teen from California, drowned when he fell into Halona Blowhole near Sandy Beach on Oahu's East side.

It is safe, Howe said, for a person with knowledge of local conditions to approach a blowhole BUT only when ocean conditions are calm (no waves crashing onto the rocks and no spouts from the blowhole.) But lifeguards say if a blowhole is pumping ... STAY AWAY. They advise people to never turn their backs on the ocean. They urge people who are unfamiliar with conditions or terrain to ask someone with local knowledge about the dangers.

"The other thing is you can look for the obvious physical signs of the rocks themselves being wet," Howe said explaining that wet rocks at a specific location are a tell-tale sign water can reach that location. And if water can reach a location people standing there can be knocked off their feet and swept away.

People who fall into blowholes are almost always doomed. Rescue is virtually impossible.

"If someone is dragged back into one of these blowholes, there's really not much anybody can do without placing their own life at risk. We would do everything we could to get you out, but without some kind of rope or something, and you can't talk (because of the noise created by the blowhole); if you look down into these things, they are full of wana (sea urchin). They are just razor sharp. It wouldn't do anyone any good to go in after somebody because they would parish as well," Howe concluded.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.