Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 25, 2004

Death of woman haunts rescuer

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Windward O'ahu waterman Michael Fields is paying the price of having gotten involved.

He keeps playing the events of Nov. 27 over and over in his mind, wondering what could have been done differently to save the life of Wanda Hashimoto. The 39-year-old 'Ewa Beach woman was stricken in ocean waters between Kualoa Point and Mokoli'i Island, also known as Chinaman's Hat.

It was mid-afternoon, sunny, at low tide with a large swell wrapping around from Mokoli'i. Fields' 11-year-old son was pleading with him to take a final spin around the island in the family's 15 1/2-foot Boston Whaler, with its 70-horsepower engine.

Fields loaded his son and 8-year-old daughter into the boat from the shoreline at Kualoa Beach Park about 3:45 p.m. for what he thought would be a pleasant five-minute ride before heading home for the day.

Minutes after they got under way, however, Fields and his two children came upon a desperate situation.

"There was a group of people; it looked like maybe three adults and six kids," Fields recalled. "There was a man trying to help this woman; she was totally blue already. For her to be that blue, she had to have been in trouble for at least 10 minutes."

Fields and the other man got the woman to the side of his boat but could not get her aboard.

"We were able to get a life jacket on her and the other guy started CPR. He started to get a slight pulse and some breathing. It was difficult for me to watch what was happening, and I'm sure it was difficult for my kids."

Fields said he was concentrating so hard on trying to help the woman that it took him several minutes to realize there was a least one more adult and five or six children nearby. Fields estimates the children ranged in age from 11 to 14.

"They all had on flotation devices. We told them all to go back to Chinaman's Hat and they did. I went back later to pick them up."

Fields estimated that he and the other man worked for 40 minutes to revive the woman before a city lifeguard arrived on a rescue surfboard.

He anchored his boat and the three men then struggled to get the woman to shore, where they continued rescue breathing efforts until firefighters and a team of emergency medical technicians arrived and took over.

Fields said he left his children on the boat and that they later swam 70 or 80 yards back to shore. He went back later to pick up the group of children from Mokoli'i Island.

"I dropped them off on shore (at the beach park) away from where they were working on the lady. I was trying to shield them from what was happening."

He learned later that despite everyone's efforts, the woman never regained consciousness and died.

He found out that her name was Wanda Hashimoto and that she had gone to Kualoa Beach Park that day with a group of friends to scatter the ashes and celebrate the life of someone who had died.

Fields said he is left wondering if Hashimoto might have survived if rescue workers had learned of her plight sooner and responded faster.

Maybe if the lifeguard had paddled out sooner. Maybe if the lifeguard had been equipped with a radio or cell phone to call for help.

Maybe ...

Hashimoto's brother, Paul Hashimoto, said his family is still grieving and is "not interested in criticizing anyone."

"We think that everyone who tried to help Wanda did what they could," Paul Hashimoto said. If improvements to life-saving efforts result from his sister's death, then some good may come from it, Paul Hashimoto said.

Jim Howe, operations chief of the city's Ocean Safety Division, said an investigation was conducted in response to Wanda Hashimoto's death.

"First of all, we're really terribly sorry this happened and extend our condolences to her family and friends — we feel for them and their loss," Howe said. "We have concluded, based on a review of the facts, that our response to this situation was the best we could do under the circumstances.

"Whenever there is a situation like this, the city conducts a thorough investigation and that includes looking at a number of aspects to understand the circumstances that resulted in that situation," he said.

When investigators understand why things happen, they look for ways to improve the system, Howe said.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-7014.