Search continues for missing Big Island fisherman; friends hold out hope
An extensive 72-hour search for Captain Cook fisherman Mark Knittle, who fell overboard in waters off Hōnaunau Bay early Sunday, will continue through the night and into Thursday.
As of Wednesday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard and Hawaiʻi Fire Department conducted 20 searches over the course of 65 hours, covering 515 miles, but with no signs of the 63-year-old. Coast Guard officials said Wednesday night they will reassess the situation on Thursday.
Friends of Knittle can’t help but feel pain over the loss of the waterman and fisherman, but they still hold out hope that he may be out there, somewhere, alive.
“He could be hanging on with one last breath,” said friend David O. Baldwin, who went to Hōnaunau Bay Wednesday afternoon to see if he could help with the search. “There’s always a chance.”
Baldwin thought walking the rugged coastline to search for Knittle makes sense, but added: “It’s a really helpless feeling.
The Hawaiʻi Police Department opened a missing persons report on Knittle on Jan. 15 after receiving information Knittle had gone overboard. The 63-year-old and an unidentified friend were fishing near the “C” buoy, located four miles outside of the Hōnaunau Boat Ramp, when Knittle hooked an ‘ahi (yellowfin tuna) at 5 a.m.
The friend told police he heard Knittle say: “The fish is huge.” Then, he saw Knittle go overboard into the water.
The friend told police he attempted to grab the line but was unsuccessful. Knittle was seen on the surface and disappeared within seconds. The friend attempted to jump in after Knittle but could not see him anywhere.
Near the ramp, where Knittle and his friend had launched the boat, Baldwin said: “I can’t stress enough what a precious man he was. He had a rough exterior and a very, very sweet interior.”
While sitting on the tailgate of his truck at the South Kona beach park, friend Akoni Perry said: “He was one giving braddah. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Baldwin recalled celebrating a birthday party at the now-closed Kona bar, Bartender’s Ocean Breeze in the 80s: “He went to Sack and Save and got a big package of beef and he cooked for everybody in the bar.”
Perry said Knittle was a good fisherman. While he wasn’t on the boat that morning, he characterized the incident as a freak accident.
While his friends know the likelihood of Knittle being found alive is slim, they are holding out hope. Baldwin and Perry described Knittle as a strong swimmer, regularly swimming inthe channel at South Kona beach park Hoʻokena and at Hōnaunau.
Perry said: “He is going to be missed.”