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Ocean rescue drill held in Maunalua Bay highlights crucial collaboration

By MINDY PENNYBACKER | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: May 2, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — In the bolt-blue waters of Maunalua Bay on a breezy Thursday morning with rising surf, Honolulu Ocean Safety, Honolulu Fire Depart­ment and the U.S. Coast Guard launched the annual interagency search-and-rescue exercise, known as SAREX, from the beach and from Spitting Caves in the cliffs across the bay.

This year, for the first time, the city and federal agencies were able to communicate effectively through their own radio systems on the scene, with the successful test of a patch between a Coast Guard helicopter crew and an Ocean Safety rescue team.

"When (the agencies) respond to a call, we need to get all our communications on the same frequency and coordinate so we're not duplicating resources, " said Ocean Safety Communications Lt. Norman Skorge, adding that the Coast Guard uses VHF radio systems while Honolulu public safety agencies use 800 megahertz.

The drill began with a simulated 911 report of an unmanned, swamped one-man kayak. The scenario involved two missing paddlers last seen at Maunalua Bay around 8 :45 a.m. The agencies responded with personnel and emergency assets: HFD's trucks, boats, Air One helicopter and Drone 1; a Coast Guard helicopter and array of boats; and Ocean Safety officers on personal watercraft.

Maunalua Bay was an ideal spot to train with such a combination of "surface and air assets, " Skorge said, describing an overall rescue grid in which "the Coast Guard copters and boats search farthest offshore, HFD searches the middle distance, and Ocean Safety Jet Skis provide rapid response over a smaller area, although our responsibility is up to 1 mile offshore along the 227 miles of Oahu coastline."

After 2½ hours, the "missing " kayakers were located and rescued. "They found one all the way by Diamond Head, while the other one floated in the opposite direction, " Skorge said.

Honolulu Fire Battalion Chief Joseph Kostiha and Coast Guard Cmdr. Nicholas Worst said the collaboration and coordination leveraged each agency's unique resources and capabilities. An evaluation of the exercise will be distributed to all involved.

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