Kalalau Trail Kauai

Recent Kauai Hiker Air-Rescues Spark Restitution Law. Who Should Pay?

More Kauai visitors have just received emergency helicopter airlifts on Kauai. On Thursday, a visitor from California, 32 years old, was evacuated from the Kalalau Trail at Haena State Park due to an injured knee. As is traditional, he was evacuated to Princeville Airport, where an ambulance met the helicopter. While offered transportation to the hospital, the man declined any further assistance. This is after the expense to Kauai for air transport, ambulance, and personnel. Who should pay?

A week ago Sunday, another similar issue was on the same trail. Three hikers were rescued when inclement winter weather and washed-out trail conditions led to another Air 1 helicopter assist. In that case, the three were transported to Hanakapiai Beach and continued their hike. Who should pay?

Also, a California hiker was rescued from the same trail last month. In that case, the man, with unknown injuries, received a helicopter evacuation to Princeville Airport and was then transported to Lihue for emergency room treatment. And right before that incident, there was another air rescue not far away when a female Utah visitor, age 53,  jumped from a rope in Kapaa, was injured, and required air evacuation. Who should pay?

So far, since January, there have been at least 10 Kauai air rescues and countless ground rescues.

State readies pay for rescue Bill.

Hawaii’s legislature seems determined this time to pass at least some bill to make hikers pay for their rescues. The current bill moving forward, unfortunately, only relates to rescues from trails where visitors are trespassing and where there are signs posted.

Many say this doesn’t go far enough, or as far as other states requiring that hikers obtain paid insurance for such rescues. Some feel like this is at least a start in protecting hikers and eliminating wasted resources needed elsewhere.

Some, however, including the Honolulu Police Department, are concerned that this would prevent some people from seeking emergency help when needed. Others, including the president of the HI Fire Fighters Assn. spoke in favor of the measure.

Despite any concerns, the bill has just passed the Finance Committee with unanimous approval. A system will be required to assess fines against these hikers if passed.

This is a statewide problem.

We’ve written previously about the Haiku stairs rescues on Oahu. The long-closed, still famous stairway has reportedly seen 188 people rescued since 2010. Last month, the Honolulu Fire Department deployed nearly 20 personnel in six units, including a rescue helicopter, to provide emergency help for three illegal hikers following injury. Partly to blame are social media posts showing people hiking and people wanting the exact Instagram moment.

Why are there so many rescues at the Kalalau Trail, and how to avoid them?

  1. Not following warning notices or trail closure signs during inclement weather like heavy rain can put you at risk for injury and rescue. If you travel during rainy months, you must be prepared for closures and a sudden change in plans.
  2. Ensure you are in condition, have proper footwear, and can handle heights before doing the entire trail. Even going as far as Hanakapiai can be thrilling and spectacular.
  3. Join the Kalalau Trail Facebook Group. It’s current and has updates from hikers about their experiences, including those who turned back.
  4. Stay current by looking at the state website for Napali State Wilderness Park. The website will advise you of closures and the permit required by advance reservation if you plan to hike beyond Hanakapiai Beach.

If you have hiked the Kalalau Trail, we invite you to share your experiences and tips.

Also who should pay?

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58 thoughts on “Recent Kauai Hiker Air-Rescues Spark Restitution Law. Who Should Pay?”

  1. This has to be one of my all time favority trails, beautiful, magical and treacherous.

    I don’t live on Kauai, but visit frequently. I believe in treating the island and particularly the hiking trails with respect. Pack out whatever you pack in, read up on the current conditions inclusive of weather and be prepared. I’ve probably visited the trail over 20 times, but I’ve only gone to the beach or the falls, as I’m typically by myself. There are always plenty of people around, that have no business hiking there, (unprepared physically or not wearing proper attire). If you have to be assisted and airlifted out, it should be at your cost.

  2. I’ve hiked and camped at Kalalau Beach a couple times, planning another trip there this Fall.

    I would rather crawl on my hands and knees the entire 11 miles back than pay for a ride.

      1. I was just going to say this. In the state of California if you are hiking in an area that you may need rescued, you have pay for a permit, and show proof of insurance that pays for all these cost (Helicopter, Search & Rescue, Ambulance…etc). Hawaii should do the same.

        1. Bryon B what are you talking about. I know of no such law in CA. Also, where are these areas that “you may need rescue” you talk about? I live 20 miles from one national park, three national forest and a large expansion of BLM land and the park would be the only one I need any kind of back country permit for.

        2. I live in California and the only hiker insurance you can get, or have to get, is voluntary hiker insurance. None is required. Even if doing the PCT it’s not required. We have to pay for a permit to park in forests, but that’s about it. There are wilderness permits, but again it doesn’t require insurance. People just have to pay for their rescues here. Aloha.

  3. It seems that, the permit system rightfully in place, visitors that scored a hiking permit and travelled from far away will take chances that any reasonable person would avoid (torrential rain, not being fit enough or prepared for Kalalau’s dangers, etc) and end up needing rescue. This is similar to people scoring long-sought permits to climb Denali or Everest: It’s their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and torpedos be damned. I’m personally fine with others taking these risks – but the cost of rescue should not be borne by society. It is their personal choice and they should bear the costs of the consequences of their actions.

  4. I was 36 and in great shape on my 1st attempt at the the Kalalau Trail. It took 2 hours to get to Hanakapiai Beach and we didnt start early enough and didn’t have the right equipment or supplies so we turned back. About 10 years later we trained, brought all the right stuff, still took all day to get to the falls and back. Challenging and beautiful trail. Make sure you are prepared. It’s worth it.

  5. My sister and I were rescued by helicopter at Kalalau Beach in February 1976. We camped on the beach by the waterfall and nobody was on that beach for the week we were there. After 2 sunny spectacular days, the torrential February rains made the trail impassable. We ran out of food and everything we brought was soaked. We feared going into Kalalau valley for fruit as the pot growers didn’t take kindly to strangers. King Kong was being filmed on Honopu Beach, one cove over. Desperate, after days of cold and hunger, we stomped a huge SOS in the sand and at the end of the day a big cargo chopper with film crew landed and scooped us up! Extreme winds made for a violent ride to Hanalei. The entire adventure was truly a surreal experience!

  6. I’m fully in favor of mandatory permits and insurance for all places that see regular emergency rescues.
    And some laws with teeth in them for trespassing and illegal entry.

    I’m against caveat charging for emergency services because that’s what they are for, emergencies.
    But when people ignore precautions and get themselves in a situation, you bet they should pay. Any new laws should say just that.

  7. For those advocating to charge tourists differently I’d point out again, public safety is paid for by property taxes. In the case of residents vs. tourists, while locals pay 100% of their own property tax bill, tourists pay a portion of the resort, hotel or rental properties tax commensurate with their length of stay. Locals who Homestead on Kauai pay just $3.05/$1000 assessed value, $6.05 without the Homestead, while vacation rentals pay $9.85/$1000 and hotels and resorts paying $10.85/$1000. And I’m sure the assessments on most resorts is very high by comparison per sqft. So even when tax dollars for the bill tourists are paying at least their fair share, and likely far more. Anyone who is found to be breaking any laws should be fined.

  8. My point is everyone should be charged based on whatever rules or laws, not tourists vs. locals. Tourists do pay for the same the same services via taxes that resort properties and rentals pay. The taxes raised to fund public safety are generally from property taxes, which tourists pay as part of their nightly accomodation taxes. Without paying customers the rentals wouldn’t be paying their taxes which I’m sure is the greater share of many public services in Hawaii. And most EMS systems do bill for all patient transports and insurance covers whatever share they cover and the patient owes the rest. If an air rescue unit doesn’t bill for this service then it’s just tax funded.


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