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HFD Will Continue Search for Missing Child Tuesday

December 23, 2019, 8:00 PM HST
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Benny Rapoza (PC: Tabitha Marcelo)

The Hawai‘i Fire Department announced via a press release Monday night that it will continue to search for 6-year-old Benny Rapoza for at least one more day.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, search and rescue personnel had yet to turn up any sight of the autistic child who was last seen around 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in the Keaukaha area near the 2100 block of Kalanianaole Avenue and Koloa Street.

“A search by foot and with Chopper 2 will be made of the shoreline (Tuesday) morning at low tide and again in the afternoon,” a Monday evening report from HFD stated. “Large waves, strong trades and treacherous seas made the search more difficult. Boat and dive (operations) were made significantly more hazardous by the sea state.”

Bad weather has been an ongoing issue since Rapoza, who suffers from nonverbal autism, disappeared.

“Today marks the first time the surf and seas have calmed down enough to put divers in the water,” HFD’s East Hawai‘i Battalion Chief Matthias Kusch told Big Island Now Monday morning. “We’ve already had three rounds of divers in the water at the possible entry area … where he’s been seen in the past.”

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According to the HFD report, SCUBA dive ops were conducted on Friday and Monday. Rescue Company 2 has conducted daily shoreline searches, while the Hawai‘i Police Department has been assisted by volunteers in daily land searches.

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HFD choppers have patrolled the skies in daily air searches, and HFD ocean safety lifeguards out of Richardson Beach Park have maintained daily patrols, the report continued. United States Coast Guard personnel utilized both fixed wing and helicopter assets to search on Friday and Saturday, primarily offshore.

The Coast Guard also helped the first day, dropping three drift buoys that mimic someone in the water. The buoys send signals for prolonged periods of time, as currents carry them into shore or out to sea. HFD continues to track the buoys’ progress to aid its helicopter search efforts.

Police are leading the investigation, as it has been classified as a missing person. HPD Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said Monday morning no decision on a timeline for continuing the search had been made.

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Typically, missing persons searches/search and rescue missions are conducted by the County for three days before they are suspended pending new information.

However, if HFD personnel is returning to the area Tuesday, then they will, in all likelihood, be accompanied by police.

Wagner said Monday there would be a joint statement, or coinciding statements, from the police and fire departments if and when the search is suspended.

“As far as how much longer HPD will be searching, we should be putting something out along with the Fire Department when that happens,” Wagner said.

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