This past weekend a 25-year-old swimmer was washed out to sea and is believed to have drowned. He was swimming in the ocean off Lumahai Beach on Kauai’s north shore. That beach is infamous for Kauai drownings.
Here is what is happening and why we want you to be careful in the ocean and on hiking trails.
Two swimmers in distress were spotted off of Laumahai at about 1 pm on Saturday. The other swimmer made it back safely while the visitor from New Jersey did not. Lifeguards, the fire department, and the US Coast Guard have been searching although efforts are now suspended. We haven’t heard yet if the two swimmers were related to each other.
Last week, there were two more hiker rescues on Kauai, one of which was deadly.
In one incident, a 59-year-old Illinois hiker on the Sleeping Giant (Nounou) east trail died. He was found on the trail and transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. That trail is not as easy as you might think and you should be in good physical condition before attempting the hike.
On the same day, a 56-year old visitor was rescued on the north shore’s Kalalau trail, due to injuring her ankle. She was air rescued and transported to the hospital for treatment. It’s a good reminder to stay focused on any hiking trail. We’ve been distracted twice. Back in April, Rob fell flat on his face on a trail when he tripped on a limb. And a few years later, Jeff had his head down on a trail and ran into a large limb extended over the path.
Just a week earlier, there were three additional rescues in one day.
On February 23, an unidentified 30-year old woman was airlifted from Kalalau Beach due to a back injury. She was transported from Princeville airport to the hospital. Also last month, a California hiker, age 56 was rescued from the Kalalau Trail. In addition, a hiker from Utah, age 53, was rescued following a rope swing jump near Kapaa.
Shortly thereafter, a rescue was initiated for a visitor from Massachusetts who was at Larson’s Beach on Kauai’s eastside. Boat, ground, and air rescue were dispatched. The woman, however, declined medical treatment after all the services that were used to rescue her.
And, on the same day, a 69-year-old woman from Minnesota was rescued at Waipoo Falls in Kokee State Park. The visitor was airlifted then transported to the hospital and was suffering from dehydration. This trail is uber-popular and we hike it regularly. Again, be in good condition and bring water.
In January, three people were rescued at Queen’s Bath, in Princeville | See rescue video.
Those, however, were Kauai teenage residents who managed to go around a locked gate. An air rescue helicopter was called in and rescued the three using nets. After landing on a nearby golf course they were transported to the hospital. Kauai’s Fire Chief said “Many people continue to bypass the gate. We urge the public that entry in these hazardous conditions can result in injuries or drownings and puts the lives of the public and our first responders at risk.”
And, on that same day, a male visitor, aged 45, from Austria, was air rescued off the North Shore of Kauai and the Kalalau trail. That visitor declined treatment after the helicopter lift to Princeville Airport.
And it goes on from there. In addition to the plethora of ground and water-based rescues, there have been at least 10 air rescues so far this year on Kauai. Last year there were 63 in total.
More recent deadly incidents.
Last fall, a 60-year-old visitor from New York died while snorkeling on Kauai. Rescuers responded to an unresponsive person in the water at Pali Ke Kua Beach after others attempted resuscitation. The visitor later died.
Also last fall, Beat of Hawaii editors attended the celebration of life for Kauai resident Tommy Horcher. In July 2021, Tommy rescued two swimmers in distress but tragically drowned after that. The rescued swimmers were in the water near Wailua Golf Course when they were overcome by rough ocean conditions and could not return to shore. Tommy saw the incident and was able to save the lives of the two swimmers. He, however, died from drowning, age 36.
Search and rescue bill in Hawaii.
We wrote last summer about Hawaii hiking incidents and the proposed search and rescue bill, which was deferred to this year by the Hawaii State Legislature. That article stirred interesting comments about search and rescue. It also brought to mind how visitor-centric places other than Hawaii are handling these extremely costly incidents. Our research indicates that air rescues such as the multitude of those performed recently could cost the state up to $47k each.
States, including Hawaii, are moving to enforce reimbursement for search and rescue under many circumstances, such as those listed below. Some version of bills that were heard in the legislature last year is likely to pass.
Bottom-Line: Know Your Limits.
The ocean is more powerful than you realize. Treat it with respect by reading warning signs, staying close to shore when you swim or snorkel, and asking advice from a lifeguard if you’re not sure about conditions. And when there isn’t a lifeguard, even more vigilance is indicated. On hiking trails, read the difficulty level and then make an honest assessment of your current physical health. When you hike, wear appropriate shoes or boots, bring water, and turn back if the trail is more than you can do. Stay safe, so you can have a fabulous Hawaii vacation and return again.
Comments from readers:
Michele: It’s essential these costs are presented to those rescued. Particularly the ones who refuse medical services on arrival. Do they think this is a taxi service?!
Paula: As a traveler, I… travel often to Colorado, where we have purchased their 5-year Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Card. Arizona is also a significant tourist destination, with dangerous climate and geological features for the unaware, so such rescues often happen. We are conservative and do our best to be well informed of local dangers and considerations, but we are also older, and you never know. Such a program seems well within reason, especially for communities with limited resources compared to the high demands of tourism.
Teresa: Who pays for these costly rescues? Do the folks being rescued have to pay anything??
States that already charge those who “negligently” require search and rescue.
At least six other states also have such plans for search and rescue to require reimbursement. New Hampshire is one, which started it years ago (2008). The laws vary, with some narrowly defined and others not so regarding what qualifies for seeking reimbursement.
In at least one case, who was responsible went all the way to the New Hampshire state supreme court in 2015, which ultimately ruled against the hiker. That person is said to have acted negligently when he went on a five-day one-person hike with an artificial hip that had suffered multiple prior dislocations.
National Park Service said, “When you have to decide in an emergency, you don’t want to be hamstrung with economics; you want to make the right decisions for the right reasons.” It is noteworthy that, at present, federal agencies typically do not seek reimbursement.
Search and Rescue card programs.
Programs exist to help both the destination and the visitor. The hikers pay for them and, in exchange, don’t have to worry about paying should search and rescue be required. While not exactly insurance, these funds help offset the soaring costs of search and rescue.
Colorado has their CORSAR card. “CORSAR cards are available for $3 for a 1-year card and $12 for a 5-year card. The CORSAR card is not insurance and does not reimburse individuals or pay for medical transport.”
“An ambulance, whether air or ground performing ambulance functions solely, is considered medical transport, and expenses for this are not eligible for reimbursement by the SAR Fund.”
The program has been in effect since 2002 and has paid out millions for search and rescue missions.
Utah has the USARA program, where individual cards cost $25 per year.
Hawaii search and rescue plans were deferred to this year’s legislature.
Two bills to allow or require reimbursement for Hawaii search and rescue expenses were deferred last year. Some version is likely to pass eventually. One bill would require reimbursement from persons who bypass appropriate signage or other notice and hike off of marked trails, on closed trails, or enter private, county, or state property. The other bill is more general and seeks reimbursement from those acting without regard to safety.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said at the hearing on SB700, that it sought to “incentivize the general public to stay within authorized managed areas.” That bill is designed to seek reimbursement when someone enters where access is prohibited, such as Queen’s Bath.
SB 363, on the other hand, seeks to require “government entities that engage in search and rescue (SAR) operations to seek reimbursement when the rescued person required SAR efforts because that person acted in disregard of that person’s safety, including intentionally disregarding a warning or notice. That bill was referred to committee and has not yet been acted on.
Hawaii currently has no means to seek reimbursement for any of these incidents, so a plan to create an administrative system would also be needed.
Please add your thoughts on Hawaii search and rescue and how the state should address it.