Son speaks out after parents swept away near Hawaiian waterfall

Posted at 4:34 PM, Nov 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-30 21:19:43-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A grieving son is sharing new details after his parents were swept away near a waterfall in Hawaii.

In one of the last photos taken of George and Gladys Novinger their son, Joseph Harmes, and his girlfriend can be seen by their side.

An emotional Joseph says he wants an earlier mistake corrected that the tragedy struck as the Novingers tried to cross a river over the 80-foot-tall Rainbow Falls.

RELATED: San Diego man missing, wife dead after being swept over waterfall in Hawaii

Joseph says the real story begins with his plans to propose to his girlfriend that day. His mom and stepdad wanted to show them a special place they went to after they got married.

“He always tells a story, that they kissed underneath the waterfall,” said Harmes. The waterfall, a smaller one close to Rainbow Falls.

All four were in the water. For Joseph, the rush of the waterfall seemed too strong. “I said momma don't do it.”

Harmes says his mother and George, a retired State Department diplomat and former lifeguard, insisted on getting under the waterfall.

“So they went there that day and waved at us, and my girlfriend said wow, we're not going to do it, and they just disappeared, and saw them go down the river,” said Harmes.

Harmes swam to shore to get help. His mother was later found and pronounced dead at the hospital. George’s body has yet to be found. “Their love was strong together, they did everything together.”

Harmes says the couple also poured that love into Vineyard Hacienda, a boutique hotel and event venue they opened three years ago.

“As they put it, it's our slice of paradise we want to share with the world, it's that glimmer in their eyes, priceless, that's how I'm going to remember them.”

Gladys Novinger also "served as Honorary Consul of Peru and on the executive board of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park," according to her biography.

Joseph hopes to continue their legacy by running the hotel. He says his step-father knew the area well but didn’t realize a nearby storm made the current dangerous until it was too late.