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One killed, 50 saved in Maui boat accident

A whale-watching catamaran sinks after the mast breaks off.

March 27, 2007|From the Associated Press

HONOLULU — The Coast Guard searched Monday for a sunken whale-watching catamaran whose mast broke off near Maui, killing one man and requiring the rescue of at least 50 tourists.

The crew from the 55-foot tour boat reported on the vessel's radio Sunday evening that the mast had snapped about two miles off Kahana Beach near Kaanapali. Witnesses said the boat was sinking and many passengers were already in the water when more boats arrived.

All passengers had been accounted for, but it was unclear what caused the boat to sink after the mast broke.

Hal Pulfer, 48, of Highland Park, Ill., died. He was visiting Maui with his wife and three children, Maui County information officer Mahina Martin said. It's unclear how Pulfer died, but an autopsy was scheduled for today.

Two other passengers were taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center -- one was in stable condition, and the other was treated and released, she said.

The Coast Guard was investigating the accident and will release more details in its report, which could take at least six months to complete, Lt. John Titchen said. If they don't find the vessel, investigators will piece together the accident using witness accounts and pictures from passengers.

Coast Guard officials at the scene reported rough ocean conditions with 6-foot waves and winds at 20 to 30 mph with stronger gusts, Titchen said.

"It's unwise at this point to speculate what happened," Titchen said Monday. "The weather was windy, making it challenging for any mariner out there, particularly a vessel with quite a few people on it."

The Kiele V boat, owned by the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, did $60 sunset cruises, taking passengers off the west side of Maui to spot humpback whales.

"We are deeply saddened by this accident, and our concern is for those who have been affected by this tragic event," Hyatt said in a statement.

The catamaran accident follows two sightseeing helicopter crashes on Kauai this month, which killed five people. It also was the second death aboard a Hawaii tour catamaran in less than four months.

In December, Jordan James Loser, 13, of Riverside was killed when the 65-foot mast of the tour catamaran Na Hoku II snapped in brisk winds off Waikiki, pinning him.

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