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March 31, 2023

Gilroy police captain a hero in Hawaii

– Scot Smithee had planned on a relaxing vacation in Hawaii with
his wife, Brenda.
The Gilroy Police Department veteran had every reason to expect
that if he was going to face a life-or-death crisis, it would be on
his job.
GILROY – Scot Smithee had planned on a relaxing vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Brenda.

The Gilroy Police Department veteran had every reason to expect that if he was going to face a life-or-death crisis, it would be on his job.

Instead, Smithee, 39, will return home a hero after helping nine people escape from under a catamaran that overturned amid high winds and massive waves Monday afternoon about two miles south of the island of Lana’i.

Emergency crews and a sport-fishing boat rescued the four vacationing couples and two crew members about three hours after a gust of wind flipped the 47-foot tour vessel. Smithee, a Hollister resident, was the last one out of the water after helping his fellows board the fishing boat.

“There’s no reason 10 people should be alive today,” 23-year-old Craig Hilty, an assistant golf course superintendent from Medford, Ore., told the Honolulu Advertiser. “God was looking down on all of us, and then there was Scot.”

Hilty and his wife Andrea, 22, had been married less than 48 hours before, in Maui.

Brenda Smithee, 36, told the Advertiser that her husband’s training and experience helped him stay calm and take action.

“That’s Scotty,” Gilroy Assistant Police Chief Lanny Brown said after hearing the story recounted. “Those people couldn’t have had a more perfect person on board, because that’s what Scot is. He’s very calm. He’s very resourceful. He assesses the situation. He can be counted on the make the right decisions.

“One of the people who was on that adventure called (Gilroy Police Chief Gregg Giusiana) yesterday morning,” Brown said. “They said, ‘Yeah, he’s a hero.’ ”

A National Weather Service small-craft advisory was in effect with 20-to 30-mph winds when the catamaran left Maui at 8:30 a.m. Monday for a snorkeling cruise to Lana’i, the Advertiser reported. When the group set out on the return voyage at 1:30 p.m., the crew could not fully raise the sails due to the high wind.

While the other passengers huddled in a sheltered area, Scot stood near the front of the boat to watch the swells, Brenda, a tax preparer, said.

At 2:15 p.m., a strong gust flipped the boat upside-down, and she saw him fall overboard. She and six other passengers ended up in the overturned cabin with an 18-inch pocket of air. Life jackets were beyond their reach.

They were protected from the waves, but the air pocket was shrinking and being polluted by propane fumes. Yet they didn’t know which way to swim out and were afraid of being tangled in the ship’s lines.

Then Scot swam in with a rope to guide them out. By the time they all escaped, there was just four inches of air left in the cabin, Brenda said.

All 10 passengers and crew reunited atop the capsized boat and huddled together for warmth, expecting to have to spend the night there. They didn’t realize that an emergency beacon had begun sending signals as soon as it got wet.

At 4:20 p.m., a Maui Fire Department helicopter spotted the group and flew to retrieve the fishing boat three or four miles away.

“It was pretty gnarly. There were 10- to 12-foot seas with 30-knot winds,” fishing boat captain Sonny Rivera told the Advertiser. “A catamaran is probably one of the most stable vessels on the ocean. It was very odd to see something like that flip over.”

Boarding the boat took 45 minutes in the rough sea. The group was returned to Lana’i, where a hotel gave them hot showers, bathrobes and dinner before they were flown back to Maui on two helicopters chartered by the catamaran tour company.

Brenda said she “wouldn’t hesitate” to take another trip with that firm, praised her ship’s crew and called the capsizing a “freak accident.”

The Smithees lost $3,000 in camera gear but didn’t bail out early on their vacation. They have since flown to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Scot is expected back at work on Tuesday.

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