Local woman dead, husband missing after being swept over Hawaiian waterfall


Gladys and George Novinger

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SPRING VALLEY, Calif. – Recovery crews in Hawaii will resume their search Tuesday for a missing Spring Valley man and former U.S. diplomat believed to be dead after his wife was found dead when the couple was swept into a river above a tall waterfall over the weekend.

The body of Gladys Novinger, 62, was found Saturday afternoon in the pool below the 80-foot tall Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, according to local media reports. Police and firefighters looking for her husband, 61-year-old George Novinger, have been hampered by poor weather and suspended the search Sunday and Monday.

Authorities told local news outlets on the Big Island that the couple was swept toward Rainbow Falls on Saturday afternoon while trying to cross the river about 100 feet above the waterfall, which is a popular tourist destination. Gladys Novinger was not breathing and had no pulse when she was pulled from the water below the waterfall and taken by helicopter to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead around 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

The search for George Novinger’s body was suspended Sunday because of dangerous conditions and most of Monday because of heavy rain, according to reports.

Along with Gladys’ son, Joseph Harmes III, the Novingers owned Vineyard Hacienda east of Steele Canyon High School off Campo Road in Rancho San Diego.

The couples’ long time friend, Stephanie Ward says Gladys worked tirelessly no matter what she put her mind, “and volunteered on many civic boards and was always giving back.  If you were sick in the hospital Gladys was the first one there.”

According to their website, George Novinger was a “recently retired diplomat for the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service” who specialized in East Asian affairs.

“He served our country in Japan (three times), South Korea, Hong Kong, Brunei and Paraguay before completing his overseas diplomatic postings as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Damascus, Syria,” according to the Vineyard Hacienda website. “His final position before retirement was as the State Department’s Regional Director of Foreign Missions in Southwestern states.”

George Novinger was also president of Balboa Park’s House of Peru, which Peruvian-born Gladys helped found with her son and two daughters, according to the Vineyard Hacienda website.

Aside from designing and planting the East County vineyard and raising her family, 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. She was also a board member of the Boys and Girls Foundation and other community organizations.  Together she and George worked to bring the House of Peru to life in Balboa Park, sadly they were to break ground next month.

Vice President of the House of Peru Oscar Urteaga says Gladys and George represent the best of San Diego, “they are involved in civic organizations, fundraising, they own businesses, they are family people – they really are the best San Diego has.”  Gladys son will return to San Diego from Hawaii on Thursday. No word on funeral arrangements.

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