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Descent into the MAELSTROM
John Ed Bradley
December 08, 1997
Last spring, when University of Hawaii kicker Shannon Smith took some friends to slide down his favorite waterfall, an idyllic day ended in a tragedy that still haunts many of those who knew him
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December 08, 1997

Descent Into The Maelstrom

Last spring, when University of Hawaii kicker Shannon Smith took some friends to slide down his favorite waterfall, an idyllic day ended in a tragedy that still haunts many of those who knew him

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Thea called for help, and Fred hustled out of his shirt and jacket. He ran over to the flume and, still wearing a pair of sneakers, followed his wife into the pool. He was only vaguely aware that right behind him, Tim Carey had also thrown himself down the slide.

"As soon as I got in, I was out of control," Fred says. "I looked up, and I could see this hole of murky water, and I remember thinking to myself, I'm way deeper than I should be. I had a bitch of a time getting up. At first I thought it was the weight of the shoes, but then the vortex pushed me over to the rock wall. At that point Thea handed me Cody, and he's got his arms around my neck and I'm treading water. Thea and Shannon had been passing Cody back and forth, but I didn't see Shannon. Thea was tiring, and I thought, s—-, as strong as she is, if she's tiring...."

Two minutes had gone by, perhaps more. Fred handed Cody to Tim, who treaded water beside them. "Are we going to die?" the boy said in a quiet voice.

"I was thinking, If I just had one more arm, I could keep rotating forever," Tim says. "I was thinking, I know I'm going to get out of here, but how are we going to get this kid out? Nothing was working. You couldn't grab onto the rocks."

Shannon had been in the pool twice as long as everyone else, most of that time supporting Cody, while kicking his legs madly in the loose, aerated water. Tim finally freed himself from the whirlpool and made it to .safety. From where he stood on a bed of rocks he watched as Thea came spinning around with Cody in her arms. He grabbed the boy and hoisted him ashore just as Fred frog-kicked past the rapids and pulled himself out of the water. Thea, meanwhile, was on her last breath and starting to black out. So this is what it's like to die, she recalls thinking moments before her 17-year-old daughter, Kristan, who had scrambled down from the cliff top, extended a stick to her and dragged her clear of the vortex.

Chris Shinnick was standing at the top of the falls. "Where's Shannon?" he shouted. Everyone turned to face him, and Chris said it again, his voice wild with alarm as it bounced against the high mountain walls. "Where's Shannon?"

Of course he knew where Shannon was. A moment before, he had watched the churning water cover his friend's face, closing over it like a sliding door. A prayer came to Chris. "God," he said, "please...." He stood in the flume, prepared to fling himself down the slide. "I'm going in," he said. From the rocks below, Fred and Thea and Tim frantically waved him away, but he said, "I've got to, I've got to go in."

"No!" they shouted, all three of them together. "Don't do it!"

If you go down feetfirst, Chris thought, and if you stick your feet as low as you can to try to kick him, to jar him loose from the whirlpool—you might save him.

"Chris, no!" Fred yelled. "You'll die, too."

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