Kayak company speaks out after visitor swept away, killed during flash flood

Illustrative photo courtesy Kayak Wailua

A woman was swept away during a kayak and hiking tour along Kauai’s Wailua River this weekend.

Police have identified the woman as Aimee Abrahim, 32, of El Cajon, Calif. An autopsy is pending.

We’re told Abrahim was part of a kayaking tour that left early Saturday afternoon when there was a flash flood watch issued for the state. Then a few hours later, a flash flood warning was issued for Kauai. Flash flood conditions occurred near Uluwehi Falls, and she was swept away downstream by the river’s flood waters.

Members of the Kauai Fire Department found Abrahim’s body shortly after 7:30 a.m. Sunday.

We spoke to Kayak Wailua owner Pete Fisher to find out what happened.

First, he said “we’re extremely sad and devastated that there was a loss of life. We feel so terrible.”

Fisher says the day’s five-hour tour started like any other. “At 1 o’clock, it was a sunny day. There was no rain,” he said. “In fact, there was no rain on the entire tour, so it was a complete shock when we had a flash flood.”

Kayak Wailua guided tours begin with a paddle upstream the river that leads to a hiking trail. Tourists have to cross the river by foot to get to the trail.

On Saturday, Fisher says the group was heading back to their kayaks on the river from the trail sometime after 4 p.m. when flood water came from seemingly out of nowhere.

“The water level at the crossing was actually lower on the way back than it was on the way up,” he said. “As the guide and two people proceeded to cross the stream, that’s when the flash flood occurred, like a wall of water came down from upstream and caught them.”

Two women were swept downstream. One made it to safety, but the other didn’t.

The National Weather Service put out a flash flood warning for Kauai at 4 p.m. but a flash flood watch had already been in effect. So why wasn’t the tour canceled?

Fisher tells us that they regularly monitor weather conditions and get alerts from the U.S. Geological Survey before tours. Despite the flash flood watch on Saturday, water conditions were not above the cautionary threshold when the tour left. The company received an alert from the USGS and the flash flood warning once the tour was on their way back.

“If it goes anything over 250, we cancel the tours,” he said, “but this one went from 55 cubic feet per second to 1,380 cubic feet per second in minutes. I mean, minutes.”

We learned only children under the age of 13 are required to wear a life vest during the tour. Fisher says the victim was not wearing one.

“Everyone is issued a life jacket, but we don’t force them to wear them,” he said. “We’re going to be searching for ways to make it safer, but like I said, they were in very shallow water when that wall of water came so unexpectedly.”

The company reportedly has had no accidents in the past.

Rescue crews flew three trips to the river and airlifted the other people in the group — seven visitors and a guide — to Wailua Homesteads Park, where a landing zone was established.

The victims were checked by the first responders and released. No one sustained life-threatening injuries.

 

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