Updated 6/9/23. While some comments have questioned the validity of the state-funded research on the correlation between travel, snorkeling, and drowning, it was a 3-year project that clearly dispelled the notion that deaths were from inhaled water. It could not definitively be sure whether long flights before snorkeling may have played some role, and more research is needed. On the other hand, it could not eliminate that concern either, and thus the suggestion of caution in that regard is indicated. The study’s leading investigator confirmed additional studies are needed “to determine both the effects of high altitude on those with certain types of lung disorders, as well as in those without any.”
Could there be a correlation between recent airline flights and snorkeling deaths? A Snorkel Safety Study suggests that could be the case. We were reminded of this by a comment from Tim, who mentioned last week’s tragic drowning at Electric Beach (pictured) on Oahu’s southwest coast.
While it isn’t clear either the victim’s exact age (he was in his 40s), or the date he had flown to Oahu. However, regular BOH visitor Tim just wrote:
“One more (warning) to add to the list is to not snorkel within a week or so of flying to Hawaii. You probably saw the article last week of the husband and wife on honeymoon and were snorkeling, and the husband died and was found unresponsive near the shore…Do some research on this subject of snorkeling after flying and be safe. There are enough dangers with the ocean, no reason to add one that can be prevented.”
We’ll add too that thieves stole the rental car and belongings of the visiting couple.
The potential relationship between flying and snorkeling deaths.
Hawaii visitor deaths caused by drowning remain far too familiar. Last summer, another drowning raised questions about the correlation between air travel and snorkeling deaths. That death was near the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and the deceased was a 61-year-old male from Oregon. An autopsy revealed no information about any relationship between his recent flight and the drowning.
The Snorkel Safety Study suggested the following:
Don’t snorkel for several days following transpacific flights. This advice is as applicable to Hawaii residents as it is to Hawaii visitors.
The safest snorkels are those that don’t have modifications to the tip to prevent water from entering the device.
Choose snorkeling locations where you can touch the ocean bottom for additional safety.
Snorkeling requires proficiency in swimming. If you aren’t able to swim, you should not be snorkeling.
When visitors drown in Hawaii, snorkeling is the most likely associated activity.
Low 02 levels rather than inhaled water may be associated with many Hawaii drownings.
The state-funded study indicated most of visitor drowning deaths were not related to inhalation of water, as had been previously believed. Drownings, instead, are largely the result of a low blood oxygen level associated with lungs having a buildup of fluid. The name for this is ROPE (rapid onset pulmonary edema), which is the result of hypoxia.
Will this answer the question we’ve asked countless times, why do visitors die from snorkel-related drowning so much more than residents?
Research found a correlation with pre-existing coronary conditions.
Men with a heart condition who are middle age, have a higher risk. So gender and age also play a role as contributing factors when it comes to drownings.
Many victims are face down in the ocean when they die. This is because of muscle fatigue and losing consciousness which leads to ROPE. When someone dies this way, there is little to no struggling considering the victim is breathing in water.
Most snorkeling victims in Hawaii are visitors.
Looking at the last 200 Hawaii snorkeling deaths, visitors accounted for 90% of them. That’s ten times more than for locals. On average, every week, we see one visitor die this way. There were 84 drownings in the latest year studied. Other accidents were primarily attributable to hiking and car crashes.
Bridget Velasco, the DOH coordinator, said, “Keeping everyone who goes to the ocean safe is a top priority.” On their website, you’ll find information on many things, including lifeguarded beaches, ocean conditions, and warnings. The website also has accident information and a list of beaches where there are the most injuries.
“If in doubt, don’t go out” is the common theme you will hear.
Tip from BOH: We’re ocean swimmers but usually follow the shoreline rather than swim straight out. Keep in mind that one recent drowning victim was 300 feet from shore. We also suggest snorkeling when the surface of the ocean is smooth, and always check how far you are from the beach.
Top Ten Hawaii Beach Safety Tips.
Issues can include strong currents, wave surges, and seasonal variations in ocean conditions, among others. Be alert, do not turn your back on the ocean, and follow these suggestions for your Hawaii vacation:
1. Remember that the ocean is unpredictable and stronger than you are. Show respect.
2. Beaches with a lifeguard are safer. Whatever beach you are on, locate the rescue tube station before going in.
3. Obey warning and closure notices on beaches.
4. Lifeguards can answer any question about ocean conditions.
5. Stand on the beach before entering to observe what’s happening and look for giant waves that can appear in groups.
6. Ocean safety brochures are in your hotel room or vacation rentals.
7. Check out the Hawaii Beach Safety website from the Hawaii State Department of Health.
8. Know how to deal with rip currents.
9. Review our Hawaii jellyfish update and calendar to avoid encounters and stings.
10. Be careful of rocks below the surface, and don’t stand on wet rocks along the beach where unexpected waves can appear.
Still some of the deadliest Hawaii beaches.
Surprisingly, the deadliest beaches may not be those that first come to mind. Many drownings occur at some of the smoothest water beaches where visitors are snorkeling or swimming.
Hanauma Bay – Oahu
Black Rock – Maui
Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon – Oahu
Molokini – Islet off Maui
Some of the Most Dangerous Hawaii Beaches.
Dangerous beaches in terms of injury but not mortality include the following. If your beach isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have concerns:
Makena Beach – Maui
Hapuna Beach – Big Island
Sandy Beach – Oahu
Brennecke Beach (Poipu) – Kauai
Laaloa Beach – Big Island
Please add your thoughts about ocean safety! Mahalo.