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Whale-watch suit possible

December 29, 2003

The family of a 3-year-old boy who died on an O`ahu whale watch tour may file suit over the child's death.

The boy - Ryker Hamilton, of Norfolk, Va. - was with his father, Ryan Hamilton, aboard the 108-foot American Dream on Thursday morning when a humpback whale surfaced near the boat in waters about three miles south of O`ahu.

Boat captain Monroe Wightman tried to maneuver to avoid the whale, causing Ryker to strike his head against the boat, the Coast Guard said.

A preliminary investigation by the Coast Guard cleared Wightman of any wrongdoing, but the Hamiltons have hired a local attorney who does not agree.

"The evidence uncovered in talking to a number of witnesses is that the captain is responsible for the boy's death," said L. Rick Fried Jr., the attorney representing the Hamiltons.

Fried said he was continuing to interview witnesses and planned to hold a news conference today.

After the boy hit his head, a nurse aboard the boat administered CPR and a nearby HH-65 Dolphin helicopter was diverted to take the boy off the boat, but he died later of blunt force injuries to the head and neck, officials say.

There have been conflicting reports from witnesses whether the whale actually hit the boat, but officials with Dream Cruises Hawai`i, which operates the American Dream, said they believed the tail of the whale struck the boat.

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