On Sept. 21, 2011, 36-year-old Ted Callaway was killed and his co-worker, Curtis Wright, 43, was grievously injured when the zip line platform they were working on collapsed, sending them both plummeting to the ground.
Initial police reports from the scene found strange inconsistencies and workplace practices that pointed to the likelihood that the tower collapse could have been prevented.
Over the course of the next several months, investigators and engineers with the Department of Labor, as well as the Hawaii County Police, probed the causes of the tower’s failure. Ultimately, they found that poor planning and site work combined with dangerous soil conditions to doom the tower’s support anchors to fail.
Meanwhile, Callaway’s mother spearheaded a strong effort to seek stronger state oversight for the burgeoning zip line tourism industry on the Big Island.
My coverage of the story began the day of the collapse and continued for several years as I spoke with police, construction workers, company owners, Callaway’s family, architects and more.
Owners of the zip line tour company were not eager to answer questions, and county offices were initially tight-lipped about the ongoing investigations.
Through multiple open records requests, in addition to poring over previous inspection reports, the truth began to come out.
In 2011, I was honored with a second-place Pa‘i Award from the Hawaii Publishers Association for spot news reporting for my coverage of the initial collapse. The following year, I won the finalist Pa‘i Award for an editorial series for my ongoing coverage.
Zip line accident proves fatal
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.
Zip line tower failed initial inspection
An East Hawaii zip line tower failed to pass an initial county inspection prior to its collapse in September, killing one worker and seriously injuring another.
The platform was one of 14 newly constructed elevated platforms on 565 acres at 27-5159 Puia Road that were assessed by county building inspector Mark Jacobsen, according to reports obtained through an open records request to the county’s Public Works’ Building Division.
Engineering report finds fault with zip line plans
The zip line tower collapse that claimed the life of construction worker Ted Callaway on Sept. 21 was “immediate and catastrophic,” according to a report by an independent engineering firm. And, it appears it may have been preventable.
The Oct. 10 report prepared by Hawaii Engineering Group Inc. was provided to the Tribune-Herald on Monday through an open records request. It was one of many documents included in the now-closed Hawaii Police Department investigation into the fatal accident.
State: Zip line installer at fault
The state has accused the builder of an East Hawaii zip line platform that collapsed last year, killing a construction worker, of serious violations of workplace safety laws.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also alleges that the builder did not take the Hamakua Coast’s unique soil characteristics into account, and raised questions about whether the builders of other structures in the region could have made the same mistake.