Hawaii TSA officer rescues tourist from rough ocean waters

Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Officer Marciano photo

While walking along a remote area of Maui’s south shore, Rodney Mariano Jr. and his 4-year-old son were talking about how dangerous the ocean can be. They both soon discovered just how true that is.

Mariano, a TSA officer at Kahului Airport (OGG), said the weather conditions in La Perouse Bay were bad – high winds, intermittent rain, high surf – not a good day to be near the ocean. Mix all that with the rocky shoreline there, and things can get very treacherous very quickly.

Picture of Officer Mariano's arm
Kahului Airport TSA Officer Rodney Mariano Jr. suffered this scrape while rescuing a female tourist from the ocean. (Photo courtesy of TSA OGG)

“We could see tourists exploring rocky areas near the ocean, walking close to the edge of the shoreline,” Mariano recalled. “Within a matter of minutes, a large wave came and swept a female into the ocean. I locked my 4-year-old in the car and told him to be brave; I’ll be right back. I dived into the ocean and rescued the [woman] from being slammed into lava rocks.”

Fortunately, Mariano and the tourist escaped with minor cuts, but things could have been a whole lot worse. He said the woman was in grave danger at this remote location with first responders a half-hour away. However, he was prepared.

“I read the ocean currents and waves prior to her getting swept in,” said Mariano, who is a skilled swimmer and diver. “It wasn’t a hard decision [to jump in to rescue her] knowing which way the currents were moving and timing breaks in the waves, also knowing this tourist would not be able to make it out on her own.”

The woman panicked after being swept into the ocean, but Mariano was able to calm her down enough to get her to safety. It’s not his first lifesaving success story.

“I have done ocean rescues in the past, mostly at beaches with undertow currents,” he said. “Very dangerous. This can pull people under.”

Assistant Federal Security Director Deborah Jaehning knows first-hand the treacherous conditions at La Perouse Bay.

“Although the scenery is breathtaking, the volcanic rock can be dangerous, especially during the rainy season,” Jaehning explained. “The tourist would not have survived without the courage and ocean rescue skill set of [Officer] Mariano. He is a humble officer, father and community member. He does the right thing, without hesitation, and is admired by all at TSA Maui County. His actions are to be honored. What an amazing role model for his son.”

Mariano’s son was a little worried about his dad’s cuts but happy his father returned to the car safely.

While Jaehning and Team TSA Maui County consider him a hero, Mariano said, “I’m not looking for praise. I’m just a normal person.”