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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 1, 2010

Surfers report bullets flying by


By Paul C. Curtis
Garden Island

LĪHU'E, Kaua'i Surfers said they heard bullets whizzing past their heads and saw ripples in the water where the bullets entered Christmas Day in the ocean off the Kekaha Rifle Range.

While there was live-fire training going on at the range that day, it is highly unlikely any of that small-arms fire came anywhere near people, a spokesman for a base contractor said.

A former professional surfer, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said the surf spot known as Targets and Rifle Range is one of the five best wave spots in the world when it breaks right (usually just two to three times a year), and Christmas Day was one of those rare days.

"There was actually bullets flying overhead while we were surfing. Not cool," he said.

"It was downright scary," said the surfer, who hid behind his board and was able to catch a ride from a friend on a Jet Ski to leave the area some 200 yards offshore where he had been surfing.

"I don't think that that is true," said John Burgess, a retired policeman and head of security and emergency services for Manu Kai, a civilian contractor at the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, near Kekaha.

The Rifle Range surf break is between Kekaha Beach Park and the base.

Precautions are taken to make sure people on land and in the water stay far away from the rifle range when live-fire exercises are taking place, said Burgess.

If people are in the water near the rifle range, as has happened before, firing ceases, said Burgess, who had security personnel on the beach to make sure no one came into the danger zone.

"We take extreme caution on that," said Burgess, who confirmed that Manu Kai security personnel on Christmas Day were taking part in live-fire training exercises with 9 mm pistols.

Such training lasts five days, is required by the federal government, and needs to be scheduled around other range activities, Burgess said.

The surfer said security personnel told them they were going to have to move because of the live-fire exercises.

So the people moved, yet strong currents common in large surf conditions like those existing Christmas Day pulled some surfers from the PMRF side of the break right back down to Rifle Range, he said.

He estimated 50 rounds were fired, and said he and other surfers could see the bullets hitting the water around them.