The Kauai Fire Department completed a major two-day rescue of 121 stranded hikers from Hanakapiai along the Kalalau Trail Monday. Fast-flowing waters made the Hanakapiai stream impassable since Sunday afternoon.
Rescue 3 aboard Air 1 flew 98 people out of the valley Monday morning, in addition to 23 people who were flown out Sunday evening. No injuries were reported.
The mission began at around 4 p.m. Sunday, when firefighters were notified of several hikers stranded on the far side of the swollen stream. Rescue 3 aboard Air 1 responded and flew as many people out as they could before nightfall forced them to halt the operation until daylight Monday morning.
Officials report that those rescued Sunday were located in the most dangerous area along the river’s edge, near rising waters. Several children were among those rescued Sunday, including an 18-month-old baby and a 12-year-old boy got caught in the water and swept downstream.
The boy, Zach Greenberg, a visitor from Salt Lake City, was able to get up onto rocks on the opposite side of the stream, and was reportedly stranded there for over four hours until rescuers short-hauled him out of the area.
“I got the stories from our rescuers, about rescuing that 12-year-old boy who got swept down and he is very, very fortunate to be here,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock of the Kauai Fire Dept.
Greenberg’s dad talked about the tense moments leading up to his rescue.
“He slipped and let go of his sister’s hand so he didn’t pull her in and I tried to grab his hand and I slipped and so my daughter, who was in the backpack with me, got swept in the river with me and Zach got swept in the river in really high force rapids and we went over a couple of little drops and seemed like forever,” said Rich Greenberg. “I got out of the river and took my daughter off my back with the backpack and ran down to see if he was okay because I knew he had passed me, panicking and got there to find him across the river and safe, only by the grace of God.”
All other stranded hikers were located in a safer area at Hanakapiai Beach. They were instructed to stay in place together overnight until Air 1 could return Monday morning. Two fire rescuers also stayed in the valley with the victims overnight.
Air 1 continued to transport stranded hikers, four people at a time, from roughly 6-10 a.m. Monday morning.
Nine firefighters in all were in on the rescue. Air 1 flew out a total of 121 stranded hikers, making 25 trips — a remarkable feat by any measure.
“When possible, firefighters will hike in to the valley to assist stranded hikers in crossing the river safely, so that they can hike out if they are able,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock. “But in this case, hazardous conditions made it impossible to get anyone across. To avoid serious injury or death, we urged everyone to shelter in place until they could be flown back to the trail head. We are very pleased to report that everyone made it back safely.
“This is probably the biggest one for the sheer number of people,” Blalock added.
For his part, Deputy Fire Chief Blalock does not want to discourage visitors from enjoying the beauty of Kauai. “We thank them for coming,” he said. “(But) do your homework, do your research, be prepared. Be the Boy Scout that you need to be. Know what you’re getting into and take precautions.”
In light of the dangerous conditions, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed the Kalalau Trail at the Kee Beach trailhead until further notice. Hikers are also advised to check the weather conditions before heading out.
In addition, fire officials offer these tips:
- Never attempt to cross fast-flowing waters. Shelter in place and wait for help to arrive.
- Bring more food and water than you expect to consume on your hike, and at least enough for a full day.
- Make sure someone knows where you intend to hike, and when you expect to return.
- Ask questions of people that know the location, and learn the potential dangers and areas of caution.
- Bring first aid supplies.
- Wear proper clothing and footwear.
- Understand your limitations (age, health, etc.) and if you require medication, bring it with you.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.