When Maj. Andrew “Lefty” Rice set out with his friend to visit a popular landmark off Kualoa Beach Park in the Windward side of Oahu Sept. 2, he had no idea of the events that would transpire.
The day began with plans on taking his friend out sightseeing around Oahu. Rice checked the forecast and the tides for locations they would tour and headed out to the first place on their list, Mokoli’i Island, locally called “Chinaman’s Hat.”
At around noon, the two arrived at Kualoa Beach Park just across from the island. As the two walked out across the sandbar to the island, Rice, who works as an exercise planner in the G-3 Theater Security Cooperation Branch, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, recalled the tide was still low and the water came up to about chest high. Once they got to the base of the island, they made their way up the trail, stopping along the way to take photos and admire the view.
“About halfway to the top, a group of four passed us going down,” said Rice. “We said ‘hello,’ and they told us which route they took to the top.”
After reaching the top, the two spent a few moments taking more photos.
“We were on the top of the island for about five or 10 minutes when we heard faint yelling. We stopped and tried to locate the source and could only think that it was the group of four that we passed at the halfway-point of the mountain trail,” Rice explained.
It was then Rice noticed the group was already in the water heading back toward Kualoa Beach Park, only they were roughly about 50 to 100 yards off the sandbar they had taken to Mokoli’i.
Realizing the four were in danger and it would take longer for him to reach the group, Rice got the attention of a few kayakers on the shore below who would have the ability to respond faster.
Jeremy Wagner, an employee of Bike Hawaii, a local guided adventure tour company, responded. He took one of the kayaks and started paddling toward the group.
“We watched him paddling because we didn’t think there was anything more we could do,” said Rice. “A minute or so after (Wagner) reached the group, we heard the ‘Help! Help!’ start up again.”
By this time, Rice was running down the mountain to get to another kayak and paddle out. Several minutes passed before he reached the group in the water.
“A male in the group was helping a female hold on to (Wagner’s) kayak. Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t responding to any commands and couldn’t hold on to the boat alone,” Rice explained. “(Wagner) was out of his boat swimming to another male in the group, who was face down in the water.”
Rice grabbed the lifejacket from the kayak and helped the other male put it on the female. Then, both worked together to pull her into the kayak. After ensuring the male was ok, Rice started paddling toward Kualoa Beach Park.
As he got within 100 feet from shore, onlookers realized the gravity of the situation and called 9-1-1.
“I jumped out of the kayak and pushed it over the seawall while others pulled it. They then pulled it to shore and got her out of the boat. I caught my breath and by that time, (Wagner), the male in the group who was ok and the male victim arrived in the other kayak,” said Rice, recalling the details.
He and the others helped to get that kayak over the wall and on the shore, and then they got the male victim out of the boat and began CPR in an effort to save him.
Through all the chaos, Rice learned there was still another male in the group who was in the water. He and another man paddled out to search for the missing member of the group. Moments later, others on personal watercraft and lifeguards joined the search.
More than an hour passed until the body of the second male victim was recovered. According to official reports from Honolulu Police, the four walked out to Mokoli’i Island on the sandbar while the tide was low, and on their return, the tide was higher.
They got caught in the higher waters and were swept off the sandbar. The group was later identified to be soldiers assigned to Schofield Barracks.
“Looking back, I didn’t realize what was happening,” Rice said. “But as it was happening, my automatic reaction was to get down as fast as I could to try to help."
“There were plenty of people who were involved (in responding to this incident),” he continued further. “(Wagner), the fire department, lifeguards and the people on the shore.”
For Rice, reflecting back on this incident “puts importance on always being ready to help with what you can.”