A well-known Tehachapi couple is grappling with the deaths of their son and daughter-in-law, who were swimming to a waterfall above Rainbow Falls near Hilo, Hawaii, when they were suddenly swept underneath the water due to a swift current.
Anne Marie Novinger said it happened Nov. 25, when her son, George Thomas “Tom” Novinger, 61, and his wife, Gladys Novinger, 62, were vacationing.
“This has been a real double family tragedy,” Anne Marie Novinger told Tehachapi News. Friends and other relatives have lent their support to Anne Marie and her husband, George.
“We have received a wonderful outpouring of love and it’s very comforting to us,” Anne Marie said.
The Hawaii Police Department and Fire Department responded at 12:39 p.m. Nov. 25 to a report that the younger Novingers fell into the water while crossing the Wailuku River, above the falls in Rainbow Falls State Park, according to a Nov. 27 media release from the Hawaii Police Department.
On Nov. 28, Battalion Chief Matthias Kusch from the East Hawaii Fire Department said Gladys Novinger was found below the falls, extricated by the fire department and taken to Hilo Medical Center.
According to the media release updated Nov. 27, Gladys later died at 4:25 p.m. and Tom Novinger has not been located.
Kusch also said that due to the large amount of rain, there was a great amount of flooding, and the search for Tom Novinger would continue as weather permitted.
Battalion Chief Michael Hayashida said Dec. 1 the search was called off Nov. 29.
According to the media release, detectives are continuing the investigation into Gladys Novinger's death and are currently describing it as an unattended death. An autopsy was performed, but the exact cause of her death is being deferred pending toxicology results.
Anne Marie Novinger said that according to Joseph Harmes III, Gladys Novinger’s son, his mother and step-father swam over to a small waterfall above Rainbow Falls, as they had before in other vacations, and suddenly the current was too strong and they went underwater.
”They were the best of the best. It is beyond tragic. They will be missed deeply. I will always carry them in my heart. And I dedicate my life to their legacy," Harmes told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Gladys and Tom Novinger were residents of San Diego County, where they owned Vineyard Hacienda, a Bed and Breakfast and wedding venue establishment, Anne Marie Novinger said. She added that her son Tom was a retired diplomat for the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service and also gave speeches at the Tehachapi Kiwanis Club from time to time.
Generations of Novingers have lived in Tehachapi since 1942.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Gladys Novinger worked on fundraising for the building of a cottage for the House of Peru in Balboa Park, which is set to begin next month.
The family is accepting cards from the community.
Gatherings in their honor will be held in the San Diego area and in the La Crescenta area where Tom grew up. Dates are pending. A candlelight vigil for them will be held Monday, Dec. 4, at 4:30 pm at Balboa Park International Cottages Courtyard, in San Diego, as well.