— Tyler Madoff, 15, was swept away by a powerful wave in Hawaii on July 4 when an adventure tour of kayaking, canoeing, hiking, sailing and surfing took a deadly turn.
Now, his grieving parents are asking questions about who is to blame.
Michael and Marianne Madoff of White Plains New York told TODAY Wednesday that they believe fault lies with tour operator Bold Earth Teen Adventure. According to a statement from Bold Earth, another company that was contracted to lead the hike, Hawaii Pack and Paddle, were not permitted to take the teens to the rocky shoreline of Kealakekua Bay, where the wave hit. The search for the boy has been called off.
Tyler’s parents flew to Hawaii immediately following the news of the incident. Once there, they wanted to speak to one person in particular — tour guide Andrew Mork of Bold Earth, one of the leaders of Tyler’s group. They drove an hour north from where they were staying to find him.
"The tour continued, which we don't really understand,” Michael said. “If it were to continue I think perhaps they could've brought in another guide. When I found Andy Mork on the beach to look him in the eye and discuss what happened, he lied to me."
Michael Madoff alleges that Mork told him two different stories about the incident. When he first spoke to him on the phone, Madoff told TODAY, "he told me that he was 5-6 feet from my son and he saw him lifeless before he was taken out." On the beach, however, Madoff said Mork changed his story, saying, "when I saw him face-to-face he told me that he was 20 feet from my son and this man Ola was the one close to my son."
Ola, also known as Nolan Keola Reed, is one of the two guides from Hawaii Pack and Paddle, the contracted tour company. Ola and his colleague Letisha managed to get all the kids to safety except two: Tyler Madoff and another teen, Matthew Alzate. Both were swept out to sea but Alzate survived.
Tyler’s parents told TODAY that when they arrived in Hawaii they were not greeted by anyone from Bold Earth. According to the Madoffs, Bold Earth did not offer words of support or sympathy. "They forgot to say they were sorry,” Michael said. “They never expressed their condolences."
It was Abbott Wallis, the owner of Bold Earth, who had called the family at 2 a.m., the morning after Tyler was swept out to sea. According to Tyler’s mom Marianna, he told her, "Your son is lost.” She said that when she asked what that meant he said there had been an accident and that Tyler had been missing for two hours.
“When eventually we pieced it together, we realized that in fact he had been missing for five and a half hours," Marianne said. "When they he tried to explain what happened, that there was a freak wave that came, obviously we were devastated and somewhat hopeful."
In a statement to NBC News, Bold Earth said the incident was "simply a terrible, natural event with tragic consequences…Hawaii Pack and Paddle is a professional outfitter, paid and permitted to be in full charge of the group…and they specifically suggested a hike to that location. HPP's lead guide then led our kids and our staff into the area where the waves struck."
Tyler’s father believes Bold Earth guide Andrew Mork used "poor judgement." "He's the lead guide and it's ultimately his decision," said Madoff. "This young fellow Ola told us that after the kayaking part of the day he suggested to Andy Mork to make camp because the swells and the surges were too high. As we understand it there were high surf advisories and warning and Andy Mork decided to continue on."
Tyler’s mom tearfully remembered her son as “an amazing friend. He was an amazing athlete, he was a junior lifeguard, swimmer, football player. He was captain of his crew team this year.”