Uncle Mel Paoa. Photo courtesy of Donna N Mel/caption]
Melvin “Mel” L. Paoa of Kaunakakai was found unresponsive yesterday about half a mile west of Kamalo Harbor in his catamaran about 300 yards offshore. Lifesaving efforts were made by rescue crews but Uncle Mel, 62, was later pronounced dead at Molokai General Hospital.
According to Maui County officials, firefighters from the Puko’o station arrived at Kamalo Wharf at 12:37 p.m. Saturday. They learned that a man was last seen securing his 26-foot catamaran near the wharf. Sometime later, a witness saw the boat drifting downwind but did not see the operator onboard and called for help. A rescue watercraft from Kaunakakai found the vessel just downwind of the wharf with no one aboard, and a search was initiated for the missing operator.
At about 1 p.m., fire crews on rescue watercraft found Uncle Mel unresponsive and not breathing downwind of Kamalo Wharf. The man was brought to shore at the wharf where emergency responders performed life-saving efforts. He was transported by ambulance to Molokai General Hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Cause of death is unknown pending autopsy results. Rescue watercraft from Kaunakakai and Hoolehua, along with Air 1 and Rescue 10 out of Kahului all responded in assisting Puko’o firefighters.
[caption id="attachment_7804" align="alignright" width="211"] Uncle Mel and Aunty Donna at Hotel Molokai. Photo courtesy of Rick Schonely
Uncle Mel — a Molokai firefighter himself who had retired only two years earlier — was a well-known and beloved member of the Molokai community. According to reports on KHON2, Paoa is known for his love of sailing off Molokai, where he was born and raised, married and raised his children.
“Those who are close to the boater say when he sails, he always wears his hat, even when he leaving Tonga for New Zealand last October on Hokulea’s voyage around the world. He’s been sailing Hokulea since 1977,” according to the KHON2 story.
Condolences are pouring out to the Paoa ohana, including his wife Donna Haytko-Paoa, who serves as coordinator for the Molokai Education Center.
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