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An inspiring story of courage

By Staff | May 21, 2020

Ryan Cabrera is a ten-year Ocean Safety veteran.

Amid the angst and heartbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless examples of courage and self-sacrifice that serve to buoy our spirits in these darkest hours of our lives.

The frontline medical forces, the first responders, the elderly care givers and so many others all serve to heal and protect the public in all corners of the world in this battle to keep us physically and emotionally safe in these unsettled times.

Three weeks ago, the effort reached home here on Maui as a family – dad, mom and 11-year-old son – went on a day fishing and kayaking excursion at Olowalu on the leeward coast of the island.

With trade winds blowing at 25-30 miles per hour out of Ukumehame Valley and funneled through the central isthmus at Maalaea, the father and son soon ran into trouble beyond their darkest nightmares.

The mom on shore became concerned when the father and son could not be seen from the beach after over two hours in the ocean. She called Maui dispatch at 4:09 p.m., and Ocean Safety Officer Ryan Cabrera immediately launched the Canoe Beach station jet ski.

Cabrera is a ten-year Ocean Safety veteran, born and raised here, and like most Maui kids, he is intimately in tune with the waters surrounding the island from surfing and beach activities throughout his life.

He understood the gravity of the situation and felt the fear that the mother on the beach expressed in her call for help to dispatch.

Cabrera is a married father and stepfather, so he is keenly cognizant of family ties and emotions. It took him 12 minutes to reach Olowalu – no doubt a traffic violation for speeding if he were on the road! – and along the way he prayed to God for guidance and support as he reached the area.

Maui County Fire Department’s Air 1, Rescue Boat 3, Rescue Unit 10 and Lahaina Engine 3 firefighters were on the scene in search and rescue mode. As Cabrera arrived, he swung by the beach and picked up Fireman Carson Chihara to aid in the search for the father and son.

Air 1 had located the kayaks some seven miles offshore, but there was no sign of the father and son. Cabrera began an “S” pattern search from the inshore waters buttressed by the winds.

About an hour into the effort, the exhausted father was located a mile offshore, barely above the surface treading water. In a moment of levity later on, Chihara dove into the water to aid the man but caused the jet ski to capsize. Cabrera’s experience righted the jet ski, and Chihara brought the man to the jet ski.

Exhausted but coherent, the man pointed toward shore to where his son was located about 100 yards away and picked up – also tired but fully conscious. They were all soon on the beach for a joyful reunion.

Congratulations and a sincere mahalo to Maui Ocean Safety and Maui Fire Department for the concerted and unified rescue operation. It will no doubt live forever in the spirit of the family.

In a sentimental twist of fate, Cabrera and Chihara are brothers-in-law and were overjoyed to be able to carry out the rescue duties as a team. Maui built, Lahaina Strong, da braddahs in action. Way to go, boys!