Hawaii Kayak Company Permit Revoked After Teen Swept Out to Sea

By OSKAR GARCIA | September 19, 2012

Hawaii officials have revoked a permit for a kayak tour company that led a group of teens when one from New York was swept out to sea on the Big Island.

The permit was revoked Friday. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources had recommended the revocation after three violations on July 4, when 15-year-old Tyler Madoff was swept away by large waves. His body was never found, and he is presumed dead.

The family of the teen from White Plains, N.Y., filed a lawsuit, claiming tour guides were negligent.

But Bob Frame, a lawyer for Hawaii Pack and Paddle, suggested the teens or the Colorado guides along for the trip pressured the local guides to deviate from the planned route. Frame asked the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources for more time to talk with witnesses and piece together what happened.

“The company had a sterling safety record prior to this incident,” said Frame, a lawyer for company owner Bari Mims. “Unusual circumstances resulted in the deviation.”

The board rescinded Hawaii Pack and Paddle’s permit but will allow Frame to present more details at an Oct. 12 meeting. The company still will be operating then because the revocation takes effect in 30 days.

Curt Cottrell, assistant state parks administrator, said the group walked roughly a quarter-mile from the approved route in Kealakekua Bay to an off-limits tide pool.

The group included 12 teens, plus two Hawaii Pack and Paddle guides and two guides from a Colorado company that organized the larger trip. The teens and guides were hiking near a monument to British explorer Captain James Cook when they stopped to rest at the tide pool. That’s when large waves washed away Madoff and another 15-year-old boy. The other teen, from Miami, Fla., eventually was rescued.

Susan Karten, a lawyer for Madoff’s family, said both tour companies are at fault. Karten said the Colorado guides decided to lead the teens on a detoured hike, while Hawaii Pack and Paddle guides followed and recommended the teens get into the tide pool.

Cottrell said in an interview that even before Madoff’s disappearance highlighted the issue, the state had been considering denying all kayak permits after they expire at the end of December as officials consider ways to better regulate commercial activity in the area. Cottrell said unlicensed boat rentals by companies that don’t have permits have been common and are hurting natural resources.

A ban would affect thousands of tourists yearly who go on guided kayak tours with one of four local companies, and potentially those going out with their own plastic boats.

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