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Saturday, September 3, 2011

In A Blink Of An Eye - Accident In Maui Channel Swim

Reports from yesterday's Maui Channel Swim from the Oak Streakers tell of a very unfortunate accident where a boater, passing through swimmers towards the end of the 9.6-mile race, hit John Caughlin. The 41-year-old swimmer from Half Moon Bay (California) who does a number of swims in California and Hawaii had been training all year for the challenging 9.6-mile as a solo swimmer.

Swimming partner Mike Mitchell was right next to him when it happened and saw the accident. He told friends that John was sucked under the boat and when held up his hand, there was nothing left but skin. Other witnesses reported that the 28-foot boat was in the way of swimmers and then made a sudden turn and hit John.

John was taken by Jet ski to shore and underwent surgery for eight hours at Maui Memorial Hospital. According to the latest reports from the hospital, the attending physician said John's right arm just above the elbow had to be amputated due to severe vascular damage and his left hand was reattached, but his thumb and index finger are gone.

The Maui Police Department confirmed the Coast Guard, Maui Police Department and the Department of Land and Natural Resources were investigating the matter.

FOR UPDATES, click here.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source


  1. Thank you for your great information. My heart and prayers go out to this solo swimmer. Why was the boater even there during this swim? I understand the relay teams require boats, but other boaters (non-competitors) should have been held up for the duration of the race to avoid such an accident.

  2. I remember at last year's event, the boat of one of the first two finishing teams went up the chute to land on the beach. What is up with the organizers of this event to allow a swimmer under their protection to be maimed by a blatent disregard of the rules??? I am sick by the thought of the impact this negligence will have on this man's life.

  3. Thank you for the information. As a friend of the injured swimmer, we've been desperate for detailed information and you are the only news source that explained exactly what happened and the extent of his injuries. Obviously, all of us are stunned and devastated. When the shock wears off, there's going to be a call for answers. Those responsible must be held accountable.

  4. hearts and prays go out to John. John is a great endurance athlete who has biked across the USA in addition to his open water swimming. I pray that I will see him on the bike and in the water again.

  5. Our thoughts are with John as well, it was a terrible accident. To the comment above saying that the organisers allowed this to happen, please get your facts straight. Following the breach by the second place team last year the organisers rewrote the rules on this point and brought this to the attention of all the entrants. Throughout the whole race were enforcing the exclusion zone. The organisers had identified the boat that was involved as it neared the no go zone, they issued several warnings to the boat over the open channel which everyone heard. The simple fact is that the boat captain was aware of the exclusion zone, he put his boat in an area outside of the zone, and then proceeded to leave the helm. Whilst the captain was not at the helm, the boat was carried by a current into the zone, and in a shocking turn of events the captain rushed back to the helm, did not look around him despite the fact the organisers were repeatedly stating that there were swimmers all around the boat, and he engaged his engine and accelerated off. The organisers of this event put in place a safety plan in response to the incident last year, and they were policing it. Don't jump to conclusions on what or why it happened without knowing the facts.

  6. Dear Anonymous, our sources were either in the water very close to the accident or on a boat witnessing the accident. We have no doubt o the veracity of their recollections and stand by our article above. Throughout the world of open water swimming, close calls and accidents happen year in and year out. It is every swimmer, race director and pilot's nightmare scenario. What was the incident last year? Was there also a close call in 2010?

  7. Steve, your article was correct - no questions about that. My comments relate to the kneejerk reaction to blame the organisers by the blogger above. The incident last year was the second place team's boat beaching at the finish shute in the exclusion zone.

  8. I understand and appreciate everyone's concern. And I know there is a lot of anger and blame to go around, but now is not the time. John would not want any anger right now. He is one of those bright lights, and all he needs now is everyone's positive energy to keep the bright light going. He is doing remarkably well and his spirits are high. He is even walking around. He was more concerned about his swimming partners vacation being ruined than his own injury. That's the kind of human being John is. As angry as you might be, please keep this positive, that's what John needs and wants. Thanks everyone for your concern. Tom Reudy (John's Coach) - San Mateo Masters

  9. As much as I can tell from the above, there is no doubt that John is making the most of a really bad situation. However, my question is relatively simple: Why don't the boats who are accompanying swimmers have a jet drive, or at the least a tunnel drive for their propulsion??? I know that they feel much more comfortable with propellers in the open ocean, but this type of accident occurs much too often.

  10. I swam last year's race, my husband captained our boat as an escort. We know many who swam this year's race. Ian and Coco have organized this race for years with no major incidents, luckily. Thus there hasn't been a huge push for better organization. The life guards on jet skis are always amazing and generally the boat and swim captains communicate and watch out for each other.

    Hopefully, after this years race and last year's Molokai Hoe, where Luke Evslin was cut from back to mid thigh when his escort boat washed over him, prop guards will be considered or required.

    I think better coordination and knowledge of the boat captains and crew for swimmers and race directors is important and it should be mandatory to have a least 2 crew so the escort can: 1) Always have a spotter on the swimmers and 2)Always have someone capable at the helm/radio. In addition, there were reports that the captain of the sunken boat left his passengers in the water and swam to another boat? What is that? Everyone was rescued - but that is nuts, there were children on board.

    Our best to John for a speedy recovery.

  11. I was a solo swimmer in this years event and wish John the best through his recovery. I think the speculation and cause should wait for an official announcement based on all of the facts. It is easy to speculate.

    With that said, I will say I thought race safety could improve at the start of the swim. We had 90 boats looking for swimmers within 400 meters. A larger parameter for boats to engage their respective swimmers is suggested for additional safety. Perhaps something in the 1500 meter range allowing swimmers to spread out.

  12. I agree with the last posting -- that safety needs to be reviewed for this race comprehensively. An accident that is as preventable as this is beyond a shame, and it's time to significantly change the safety profile of this race. Some ideas:
    1. Staggered start with relays and individuals in two groups instead of one overwhelmingly large group. Establish limited entries.
    2. Mandatory meeting for boat captains.
    3. Boat safety checks - several boats did NOT have anchors and ropes, as evidenced by the boat stuck on the reef at the start. I am not sure why the boat at the finish did not anchor safely away. Make sure all radios are operational.
    4. More safety boats. The three jetskis were great, but not enough for the scale of this race. There should also be a race boat out there to help pick up swimmers in an emergency, such as the sinking of boats that happened this year.
    5. Enforcing the safety area at the finish with an actual presence on the water, not just relying on the radio. More buoys could also be placed ahead of the 'no go area' to make it more obvious.
    6. An annual summary of incidents should be posted so that all can learn from the mistakes of the past.

  13. so easy looking back now, but if an escort boat entered the "no entry zone" for boats, why not simply shut down and turn off the engine, since that was an area where finishing swimmers were entering. the command should have been given. the final outcome of rectifying the situation, would have been a lot better overall than was the real one that unfolded.

  14. Any updates on the investigation?

  15. Yes, an update is posted here: http://www.dailynewsofopenwaterswimming.com/2011/09/in-blink-of-eye-accident-update-in-maui.html

  16. My heart is heavy for John and his family. I pray that soon he will be healed enough to get back into athletics and volunteer work.

  17. John's Blog

  18. John, we haven't met but we are kindred spirits, as I have also done a few MCSs and soloed in past years, and lived in HMB in the '90s. I was in Maui last week and as an alum, inquired about this year's race. I was deeply saddened and shocked to learn of your tragic injuries and I hope and pray that you, with your strong spirit, attitude and courage will make a great recovery. Hope you know that so many of us, swimmers and non-, friends and strangers, are pulling for you as you face the challenges ahead.
    Heartfelt best wishes.

  19. Sydney swimmers are the providing the best coaches in Sydney and if you are looking for free classes then call us now at 0431 571 161


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