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Tourists follow GPS, drive car into Hawaii harbour

Natalie B Compton

THE WASHINGTON POST – It was a normal Saturday on Hawaii’s Big Island for resident Christie Hutchinson and her husband, Sean. They had spent the day sailing on their boat, the Nanea, with their friends.

It had started to rain, but they were about to haul the boat out of Honokohau Small Boat Harbour in the town of Kailua-Kona. Then a Dodge Caravan rolled down the boat ramp.

“I was just sitting there trying to seek shelter from the rain, and then the next thing, I saw a car drive directly past our boat straight into the harbour at a pretty decent speed,”

Hutchinson said. “It was so confidently done, they didn’t have a look of panic on their face.

They were still smiling.” Hutchinson started filming a video of the incident with her phone as the tourists, who she said were two sisters, were already headlights deep in the gray harbour water, their windshield wipers still wiping. In the video, as rain continues to fall, you can hear Hutchinson ask aloud, “What is going on?” followed by “pretty sure that was not supposed to happen”.

The driver of the sinking car is shown sitting with her seat belt on. The front-seat passenger crawls out of her window and wades to shore, while the driver unbuckles her seat belt and tries to climb out of her window. Several men, including Sean Hutchinson, dive into the water and toss ropes and a buoy to attach to the van. Eventually Sean Hutchinson helps the driver from the car and carries her to the ramp.

“She mentioned she’s got a heart condition, and that’s why it took her so long to get out of the water,” Hutchinson said.

It didn’t surprise Hutchinson that her husband jumped in to help.

“He’s grown up in water his whole life surfing. He’s worked at boat docks,” she said. “I feel like that’s a natural response for him, so I was very proud.”

After the rescue, Hutchinson said, the tourists mentioned they had been following their GPS to find a manta ray tour. Seeing the Hutchinsons’ car parked on the ramp, ready to pull their boat out of the water, may have confused the driver. No matter the reason, the car was doomed shortly after making contact with the water.

In the video, the car disappears below the surface. Hutchinson said the rescuers anchored the van so it wouldn’t float farther into the harbor and be a danger to boats. It was hauled out a few hours later by a tow crews, HawaiiNewsNow reported.

“It’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last,” said Ashley, a staff member of Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii, which operates from Honokohau. (She spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain her privacy.) “Usually it’s more at night when it happens but this was a little bit before sunset so there was still plenty of daylight.”

The tourists were not Manta Ray Dives customers, Ashley said, but three of the company’s employees were part of the rescue, helping provide equipment to the volunteers from other tour operators in the water. Honokohau Small Boat Harbour, which is on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, is home to several tours, including whale watching excursions, scuba diving trips and catamaran charters.

While such accidents may have happened before at Honokohau, Samantha Tavares, information specialist for Hawaii’s Department of Transportation, said it’s “kind of rare” statewide.

“Usually GPS is pretty accurate in Hawaii,” she said. “It’s not exactly normal for that to happen.”

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