Hawaiʻi Island police identify man who drowned picking ʻopihi as 39-year-old from Hilo
The body found in the ocean near the cliffs off Old Government Road in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision on July 30 has been identified as 39-year-old Seth Kapiliokalani Waltjen of Hilo, according to Hawaiʻi Island police.
On Aug. 1, an autopsy was performed on Waltjen. The forensic pathologist ruled Waltjen’s death was consistent with drowning, and ruled out foul play. Final autopsy results are pending toxicology testing.
Waltjen was initially reported as a missing person on Sunday morning after he failed to return from ʻopihi picking and diving on the evening of July 29.
On Sunday afternoon, divers with the Hawai’i Fire Department located Waltjen’s body in waters several hundred yards offshore.
Three weeks ago, a search ended for a 29-year-old woman from Pāhoa, Shanice Ogata-Staudinger, who went missing July 9 while picking ʻopihi in the area of Kahakai Boulevard and Papio Street in Pāhoa — at a spot commonly known as “Hau Bush.”
During the search for her, Deputy Chief Eric Moller with the Hawaiʻi Fire Department said that picking ʻopihi (snail) is “a pretty dangerous practice.”
There have been several other cases of ʻopihi pickers dying or needing to be rescued over the past 13 years:
- In 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search for a missing 46-year-old freediver who was last seen picking ʻopihi off rocky Kaiwi Point, about 1/2 mile south of Honokōhau Harbor on the Big Island.
- In November 2019, two ʻopihi pickers were in need of rescue in the Honokaʻa District of the Big Island. One person was stranded on shore about 60 feet below cliffs at Haina and was rescued by rope. The other person, a 40-year-old, was swept out to sea when there were swells about 15 feet high. He was never found.
- In 2014, the search was suspended for 30-year-old Peter Mahoe, who was last seen climbing down a cliff near Cape Kumakahi to pick ʻopihi on the Big Islandʻs easternmost point.
- In 2010, fire department divers located the remains of 41-year-old Josph Pacheco Jr. who had failed to return from picking ʻopihi. He was found about one mile north of Papai Bay on the Big Island.
Detectives with the Area I Criminal Investigation Section are continuing the investigation of Waltjen. It is currently classified as a coroner’s inquest.
Police ask anyone who may have information relative to this case, to call the police department’s non-emergency number at 808-935-3311, or Detective Jeremy Kubojiri of the Area I Criminal Investigation Section at 808-961-2378 or email [email protected].