Man falls 200 feet to his death, another struggles to survive after tower fails
NOTE: This story earned second place for spot news reporting in 2011 at the Hawaii Publishers Association’s Pa‘i Awards. Judges said: “It begins as a story of an accident, well-chronicled. But the sourcing that follows in the second half of the story is impressive indeed.”
By COLIN M. STEWART
One man was killed and a second was fighting for his life after a 30-foot zip line tower in Paukaa collapsed Wednesday.
Police did not give the names of the victims Wednesday afternoon, saying that family members had not yet been notified. They identified the man who was killed as a 36-year-old resident of Maui. The injured man, who was in critical condition at Hilo Medical Center, is a 35-year-old from Ohio.
According to a police department spokeswoman, the men were contract workers testing the line after making adjustments. The line, owned by Lava Hotline LLC, had been in operation for about a week, she said, and the workers were addressing a complaint that the line was too slow. They had just completed tightening the cable to provide a faster ride.
The zip line course, which has a span of about 2,300 feet, is located about 4 miles mauka of Hawaii Belt Road in Paukaa and crosses Honolii Stream. The Maui man was traveling the line and was about halfway across a gulch when the tower collapsed. He fell about 200 feet to the rocky stream bed below, the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the Ohio man was waiting atop the tower for his turn to ride the line when the incident occurred. He fell about 30 feet, she said, and sustained multiple internal injuries. Neither of the men appeared to have been wearing protective headgear, she said.
According to Hawaii County Fire Department Capt. Chad Shirota, rescue units received the call about the incident at 9:39 a.m. One of the county’s rescue helicopters was the first to arrive on scene 18 minutes later, he said.
“It was hard to get access to the area,” Shirota said. “There was little visibility from the ground.”
The Ohio man was treated by paramedics on the ground and transported to Hilo Medical Center by rescue helicopter Chopper Two. The Maui man, who was “found with no signs of life,” was extricated from the scene by Chopper One.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said early Wednesday evening that his office would work to determine the cause of the incident.
“I want to express our concern and condolences to the families of both men involved in this tragedy,” the release said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”
Kenoi said that the county would conduct a “careful, thorough review to determine all the facts in this case. We need to know exactly what happened and why, and we need to know exactly what went wrong. When we have completed that review and the facts are known, we will release our findings publicly.”
Homegrown tour company KapohoKine Adventures had planned to include the new line in its popular zip line tours. It had been built and tested by Maui company GoZip LLC/Experiential Resources Inc.
A note on KapohoKine’s website states that its zip line course had been closed for the season as it moved to a new location. “The best zip line on the Big Island of Hawaii is moving to a bigger, better, even more fantastic location!” it reads. “More and even bigger waterfalls, longer lines and bigger thrills are coming to the safest zip line on the Big Island!”
A manager at KapohoKine’s storefront on Waianuenue Avenue in Hilo said Wednesday afternoon he could not discuss the incident and directed all inquiries to one of the company’s owners, Gary Marrow.
When reached via phone for comment, Marrow said that KapohoKine does not own the property or the lines. Marrow also owns Lava Hotline, which owns the lines.
“Teresa Prekaski owns it (the property),” he said. “It (the accident) had nothing to do with the tours,” he said. “It was construction guys with GoZip/ERi. It was a part of the course that wasn’t really open yet.”
He added that KapohoKine’s zip line tours were going to be shut down for “a couple weeks to do inspections, just to make sure things are completely safe.”
When reached via cell phone Wednesday, GoZip/ ERi spokesman Todd Domeck sounded shaken and distressed. He said that he was in the process of heading to the Big Island to inspect the scene of the accident.
“All I can say is that one worker was killed and one was injured. We are notifying the families and we’re just dealing with that right now,” he said.
In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, ERi President John White said the company was “deeply saddened” by Wednesday’s accident.
“The ERi family extends our heartfelt sympathy and aloha to the family and friends of our employees,” it read.
According to the companies’ websites, GoZip LLC provides tours to more than 30,000 guests per year in Hawaii. It is a sister company of Experiential Resources Inc., which bills itself as “the world’s leading designer and builder of adventure courses. ERi has conducted work in 40 states and 12 countries. Among the courses built and operated by GoZip/ERi are Kapalua Adventures at the Kapalua Resort in Maui, the Piiholo Zip Lines on Piiholo Ranch in Maui, and Bay View Mini-Putt and Zip Lines in Kaneohe, Oahu.
Darren Arai of the county’s Planning Department said Wednesday afternoon it was too early to know whether the zip lines had been subjected to permitting or inspections.
On May 13, Marrow and Prekaski were fined $16,500 by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for unpermitted building on conservation land after making a trail down to Honolii Stream and other improvements.
Also in March, KapohoKine was ordered to stop using the old Honolii airstrip for its helicopter tours due to county land-use laws.
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