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The story of a father who survived a night adrift at sea after Hurricane Iniki

Courtesy "Hurricane Iniki and I"

Sept. 11 marked the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Iniki’s landfall on Kauaʻi. It was the costliest natural disaster in the history of Hawaiʻi, killing six people and causing over $3 billion in damages across the Garden Island and West Oʻahu.

On that day, three commercial fishermen were returning from a successful fishing trip off Ni’ihau when their boat was caught in the hurricane. The boat capsized 5 miles off Kauaʻi.

Two of the men, Masa Hatanaka and Nobuo Saito, were lost at sea. But the third man, 50-year-old Bob Ward, survived.

"The wind was so powerful, I remember him saying something about 140 knots. And the wind just blew us over in this trough and forced us down. The engine had died and the water started rushing in there. I looked at him and I says, 'We better go.' I knew that boat was gone," he said in an interview with NBC News in 1992.

Bob Ward speaks to NBC News from his hospital bed after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
NBC News
Bob Ward speaks to NBC News from his hospital bed after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

He stayed afloat overnight, about 20 hours, on a 6-foot brine tank from the boat. "I just told myself, you gotta do it," he told NBC reporter Robert Hager.

A U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter eventually found him after honing in on an emergency transmitter adrift in the water from Hatanaka's sunken boat.

"I don't think anybody could be faced with that kind of death, you know, on that scale and not be affected. And I know he was out there bargaining with the Lord. And afterward, he became much more religious and he was humbled," his daughter Tiffany Ward told The Conversation. "He believed that the Lord pulled him through it to be of service to others."

Bob Ward died in 2019.

"When I asked him what he wanted done with his body, he said, 'Take my ashes to sea. My friends are waiting for me.'"

A limited number of Bob Ward’s book about the experience, "Hurricane Iniki and I," will be available online with proceeds going toward the Red Cross to benefit future disaster victims.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Sept. 12, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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