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Force of Hawaii Blowhole Kills Sylmar Teen

Tragedy: He straddled the opening, was tossed into the air by a geyser and fell into the hole.

July 02, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The body of a Sylmar teenager on vacation with his family in Hawaii was pulled from the ocean Monday, about 18 hours after he was washed head first into a blowhole that is a popular Honolulu tourist attraction.

Witnesses said that Daniel Dick, 18, a recent graduate of First Lutheran High School, was straddling the Halona Point Blowhole, which is closed off and marked with signs warning tourists to stay back. About 100 people watched Sunday as a wave tossed him into the air and then washed him head first into the ocean, said Honolulu Fire Capt. Richard Soo.

Rescuers in boats and helicopters, scuba divers and snorkelers combed the area, but called off the search at 8 p.m. when the sun set. They resumed searching at 5:30 Monday morning, with Dick's mother and two younger brothers waiting at the shore, Soo said.

At about 10:30, two scuba divers found the body 20 feet offshore in about 15 feet of water.

Family and friends said Dick had been student body president at First Lutheran High School, worked two jobs and was the fastest checker at the supermarket where he worked. The trip to Hawaii was a graduation present.

"They took him there because he had worked so hard to graduate and they [his family] were so happy," said Suzi Underwood, his math teacher. "He was really looking forward to it."

Dick had taken a public bus to Sandy Beach on Sunday with three girls he had met in Waikiki, Soo said.

Though tourists are supposed to observe the blowhole from a distance, Soo said that witnesses saw Dick, who was 6-feet-3 and 180 pounds, approach it and let the water splash on his chest.

The blowhole, which is like a geyser, is a result of a cliff jutting over an underwater cave, Soo said. Water rushes into the cave and then gushes through the hole. The bigger the waves, the stronger the force of the geyser.

Dick got closer and closer to the hole, and finally straddled it, Soo said. At that moment, a large swell washed in and sent a geyser into the air.

"He went head first into the air, and that was the last anyone saw of him," Soo said.

In Sylmar, news of Dick's death traveled swiftly through the First Lutheran Church and school, where many had known the family for decades.

"He had a big heart in a little skinny body," said Isabel Ritz, the student council advisor. "He was friendly and kind and he was wonderful."

Students at the high school consoled each other Monday.

"The student body is just devastated," Underwood said. "He was the class clown. He pretty much lit up the class wherever he went."

Teachers said Dick planned to study business administration at Cal State Northridge in the fall.

Through officials in Honolulu, his mother said he was the top checker at a supermarket in Sylmar, and was so fast at moving people through the line that the store had planned to enter him in a regional contest.

Teachers remembered him as a responsible student, always looking out for his younger brothers, but one who did not hesitate to stick swizzle sticks up his nose to make others laugh.

Underwood said that Dick used to take attendance in one of her classes, and every day he would "totally disrupt the class when he came in," she said.

"He would always come strolling in, all goofy, and say something to crack the class up," she said. "But I couldn't get mad at him, because I loved him and the kids loved him ... He just did it to brighten their day."

Underwood also said he was a fiercely protective older brother, a protection he extended not just to his own two brothers and sister, but to anyone being picked on.

"If there was some injustice going on, he would step in if he thought it wasn't right," Underwood said.

At least two other people have died after falling into the Halona Blowhole.

Tracy Rodrigues, 18, of Honolulu was killed April 13, 1986, when he fell into the hole. Reports said Rodrigues was squatting next to the hole, trying to look inside, when a wave struck.

On July 24, 1969, Robert Barry Lee, 26, was swept into the hole by the force of a wave as he was trying to warn a young woman about getting too close to the opening. Lee called for help while inside the hole, but was swept to sea and died.

On Sept. 10, 1967, Schofield Barracks soldier Jeffrey Terte fell into the blowhole but lived and was rescued.

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Associated Press contributed to this report

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