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Tragedy at Waimea Bay sparks conversation on how to stay safe on the beach

A surfer rides a wave that begins to crest above him

Waimea Bay, a popular beach spot for tourists, locals and BYU–Hawaii students, faced a major tragedy on Feb. 7 leading to the disappearance of a Swedish visitor, raising questions about beach safety. BYUH students and lifeguard react to the incident by advising beachgoers to not overestimate their abilities during rough ocean conditions.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hanna Wanerskog, 20, was visiting Oahu for an internship. A large wave at sunset swept Wanerskog and two others into the ocean while on the beach at Waimea Bay. The two people accompanying Wanerskog made it back to shore, but she was last seen treading the water at 6:35 p.m.

Wanerskog is still missing at this time, and the searches have since been suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard after scouring 485 square miles off Waimea Bay, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Charlotte Kelsey, a freshman from Arizona studying psychology, was at Waimea Bay a week after the incident. She said she was unaware of the situation. “It doesn’t feel like it’s real. I have been there a dozen times, and you can never think that something like that can happen to you.”

Surfing the Nations, the internship Wanerskog was associated with, came forward with a statement saying, “There is nothing that can be said or done that will ease the pain of this loss. We can only remember the beautiful life lost and the weeks of joy and laughter that brought so many together in such a short time.”

Wanerskog’s participation in the program, based in Wahiawa, included helping at-risk youth in Hawaii and feeding the homeless, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Freshmen Sydney Violette and Nichole Eddington were accompanying Kelsey at Waimea, and said they also were not aware of the tragedy. Violette, an exercise and sports science major from Utah, was coached to always swim in the sight of lifeguards and be aware of rip currents prior to moving to Hawaii.

“Whenever I have doubts about going into the ocean, I take it as a sign not to go out. It’s better [to be] safe than sorry,” said Eddington, a psychology major from Oregon.

There are precautions to prevent getting into dangerous situations in the ocean, said lifeguard Avery Oldner, a freshman from San Diego, Calif., studying elementary education. “People get in trouble when they underestimate the water at the beach. People think that since they can swim at a pool back home, or they swam at the same beach during the summer when the waves were small, they can withstand any condition.

“Always know where your lifeguards are, try to stay as close to them as possible so they can get to you quickly," said Oldner. "If you get to the beach and you have an unsettling feeling, always trust your consciousness and don’t go in the water.”