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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 40, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hawaii Snorkeler Dies in Rough Water

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

To a diver, snorkeling is second nature, but during inclement weather, bad things can easily happen. That's what befell Mark Strickert from Austin, TX, who was on vacation with family in Hawaii and died while snorkeling at Maui's Molokini Crater on July 20. He was aboard the Double Scoop, operated by Scuba Shack, along with 11 other passengers and three crew members on a rainy, windy Sunday morning. Four snorkelers, including Strickert and his son, got stranded in high surf and strong winds on the crater. The Coast Guard was called in to rescue them, and Strickert, 50, was pronounced dead on the scene. Alana Osaki, a 23-year-old crew member who had attempted to rescue the snorkelers, was hospitalized in critical condition. Another snorkeler suffered serious abrasions.

Maui was under a flood advisory that day, and Hawaii was under a flash flood watch due to remnants from storm Wali. But Scuba Shack owner Charley Neal, who was captaining the Double Scoop, wrote on Scuba Shack's Facebook page that weather conditions were calm as he left Kihei Boat Harbor, and a squall line quickly moved in without warning.

"[It] was pretty much like any other day, a dissipating storm had supposedly passed, I checked the radar and it looked like it had passed to the north and had been downgraded. The weather report called for trades, 10-15 mph . . . When we dropped the boat in the water at 6:15 a.m. there was a light wind, 5-10 mph, light chop, a foot and under. We went to Molokini, dropped in the divers, and six snorkelers hopped in the water and floated about; all had wetsuits on, which I insist on for safety.

"After about 30 minutes, what I would call a 'freak storm' rolled in and hit like a wall . . . 40 to 60 m.p.h. winds, rain, and the ensuing eight- to 12-foot foot breaking waves . . . The father [Strickert] and young son swam to the island, the boy climbed right up on it . . . We went to find the dad, and unfortunately found him face down and unresponsive, near shore. He was wearing a full wetsuit. Immediately, our brave Alana grabbed a rope, tied it around her waist and dove in. Unfortunately, the rope got caught in the jet and sucked her under the boat, the rope constricted her horribly before it snapped, and the severe squeeze caused internal injuries.

"I would never put anyone's safety in jeopardy, ever. It was a normal day and a freak storm. We still don't know what caused the victim to expire, but hopefully we will soon. He had a 'medical' issue but also had a doctor's clearance to dive. And again, he was just snorkeling with full floatation."

The Hawaii news station KITV says a review of Doppler radar that day appears to corroborate Neal's story, with a thick line of thunderstorms moving through the Molokini area that morning. And when an experienced boat captain says jump in, most snorkelers will trust that person to know the conditions and will go ahead and jump. Many other dive and snorkeling charter captains had canceled their trips that day due to conditions.

Undercurrent readers might be familiar with Neal, because he is the operator who has a "no peeing in wetsuits" rule. For the story we did on him a few years back, go to our April 2007 issue.

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