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A Tale of Horror in Hawaiian Waters

SATURDAY JOURNAL

A kayaker says shark killed his bride as they awaited rescue in the dark.

March 27, 1999|PETE THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a nightmare in Hawaii that Mark Monazzami can never forget . . . no matter how hard he tries.

He emerged from the hospital Thursday and planned to join the search for his bride's body in the beautiful waters off Maui. It was there, he said, that she bled to death after the shark took off her arm.

There are no eyewitnesses to the attack and no body. But there are few doubters in Hawaii, where two other shark attacks have been reported recently, and where tiger sharks were hunted earlier in the decade to reduce the threat of strikes on humans.

Most of all, there is Monazzami's story, in which a tiny kayak with the two honeymooners aboard was pitted against howling trade winds. Maui police say that at this point they have no reason to doubt the story, and they hope others will pay heed.

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A naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, Manouchehr Monazzami-Taghadomi, 39, who goes by Mark, has lived in California for 20 years. He had visited and corresponded with Nahid Davoodabai, a 29-year-old Iranian gynecologist, often in recent years. He finally asked her to marry him in December of 1997.

She accepted, and the two took their vows that winter in Iran. She remained for several months to sell her clinic. He returned to Sunnyvale, where he is employed by ESG Consulting of San Francisco, under contract with United Airlines. He began the paperwork his wife would need when she emigrated.

When that finally happened last summer, they planned a spring honeymoon to the scenic shores of Lahaina, Maui. Monazzami, a frequent visitor to Hawaii, wanted to treat his wife to a week in paradise.

Genice Jacobs, a colleague of Monazzami's at ESG Consulting, said the couple were looking forward to their romantic getaway. "He's just a really sweet guy, and if you looked in his eyes, all you could see was love and passion for his wife."

On March 13, they checked into a small condominium resort just beyond the beach on the popular corridor between Kaanapali and Kapalua, north of Lahaina.

In an interview from his hospital bed this week, Monazzami recalled how they lounged in the sun, snorkeled and took long walks on the beach.

Others were paddling around on kayaks and it looked like fun, Monazzami said, so they decided to give it a try. They reserved a two-seat hard-plastic ocean kayak at a shop on March 17 and picked it up the next morning.

Unlike kayaks in which paddlers sit inside the shell, the seats of this version are on the exterior of molded plastic bodies. The vessel is tippy in choppy waters but easy to maneuver and fast. In warm coastal waters, it is an ideal craft.

Wearing only swimsuits and life jackets, they set out about noon in an area south of Lahaina called Ukumehame. The weather was fine and their kayak glided swiftly across the ocean with little effort.

Their first paddle was fairly brief. The second was a little longer. In all, they had paddled for about three hours, Monazzami said, before taking a long rest on the beach.

Monazzami's arms were weary and he was content to remain on the beach, he said, but his wife persuaded him to climb aboard the kayak one more time. It was 4 p.m., and the water immediately beyond the beach was still relatively calm.

Offshore, a small-craft advisory had been issued to boaters. From the beach, a keen and knowing eye might have seen the telltale "wind line" beyond the area protected by the mountains.

More Than a Mile Offshore

Off they went, not getting very far, Monazzami said, before a big wind "came out of nowhere" and began pushing them farther from the beach. Within a short time, they were more than a mile offshore.

Realizing they were in trouble, they waved their paddles and screamed for help. No one saw or heard.

The sun began to set.

Since their kayak was rented on an unlimited basis, payable on return, and no one was expecting them ashore, Monazzami realized that their chances of rescue that night were slim.

Davoodabai asked her husband if they were going to die. He reassured her, he said, that if they could last through the night, perhaps they could flag down someone on a boat at daybreak.

The chop made it difficult to keep the vessel upright, especially with the onset of darkness. They began to capsize frequently but soon found that it felt warmer in the water anyway. Temperatures above and below the surface were about the same, in the low to mid-70s, but in the water they were out of the wind.

"I wanted to stay on the kayak to make it easier for someone to see us," Monazzami said. "But I was shivering and cold, and my wife begged me to come in the water, so I went in and every wave that washed over us just felt so good."

At some point during the night, however, Monazzami became concerned about the possibility of a shark attack, and said so to his wife. Her response, he said, was that being warm was more important than worrying about sharks.

Moments later, he said, it was Davoodabai who cried out, "Shark!"

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