Firefighters save men trapped by flash flood

  • GABBARD
  • ROSARIO

KAILUA-KONA — For the second time in four months Hawaii County firefighters were able to successfully bring swimmers to safety after the men were trapped in a flash flood on the private property of Anna’s Ranch in Waimea.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would impose fines on trespassing hikers who require rescue.

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Four patients were initially reported trapped Saturday evening at Cowboy’s Pond. Emergency personnel were able to assist one man to safety and a technical rescue was performed to bring another man out of danger. The four went swimming on the private property during a flash flood advisory.

“Like the previous incident with the college students, they didn’t heed the warning,” said Fire Chief Darren Rosario on Monday.

On Nov. 3, firefighters performed a swift-water rescue for three swimmers trapped under a waterfall in the same area. The three were part of group of 13 students and staff from Youth with a Mission from University of Nations in Kona who went to Cowboy’s Pond. Flash flood conditions also were reported at that time by Hawaii County Civil Defense.

The Saturday incident involved visitors to the Big Island, according to Hawaii Police Department Maj. Robert Wagner. Two, a 21-year-old man from Texas and a 22-year-old man from Indiana, were assisted to safety.

The patients, ranging from ages 18-22, were initially reported trapped because of a fast-moving river with flash flooding conditions after nightfall above Anna’s Pond, also known as “The Place.”

The Hawaii Fire Department first received the call at about 6:07 p.m. According to Hawaii Police, fire personnel reported there was one male party who called it in and was stuck in a tree. There was another male party on a cliff face about 10-15 feet down and there were two other males on the Kawaihae side of the stream unable to cross and return to safety.

Two fire department members arrived at 6:25 p.m. and located all individuals unharmed. Two men self-extricated, and a third was assisted to safety, states a fire department press release.

The fourth man was located on the Kawaihae side of the river and required technical rescue. Rosario said Saturday’s rescue including rappelling with the danger factors being cold, dark and wet. Rescue companies from Kailua-Kona and Waiakea stations also responded.

The patient declined medical treatment and was released to police. Two of the younger males were not identified and left the scene prior to officer contact, according to authorities.

Wagner said the Texas man and Indiana man were cited for trespassing and have scheduled court date April 2 at the South Kohala District Court in Waimea.

Simple trespass is a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000. The YWAM staff and students were cited for trespassing in December and sentenced to perform community service hours.

The chief said the area of Anna’s Ranch and the backside of Waipio Valley is known to be a dangerous area. But the publicity of private properties on social media has brought more trespassers to Anna’s Ranch, putting visitors at risk.

“There’s a lot of areas on Hawaii Island that can give them the same type of experiences as the private areas,” Rosario said.

The chief said the department doesn’t calculate what rescue operations cost, as it is included in the overall budget.

For fiscal year 2019-20, the department submitted a $48 million budget. About $17 million of that is state contract revenue for EMS and $500,000 for Hapuna water safety officers.

Within the budget, Rosario said, costs for equipment repairs, training, overtime and aviation are factored into the overall number — adding they project 25-50 flight hours per month as part of the budget within the aviation line item.

The measure currently being eyed by state lawmakers in Honolulu — introduced by Democratic Sen. Mike Gabbard — would fine individuals who need rescue after intentionally entering areas where warning notices are posted. The bill would seek reimbursement when the rescued person required search and rescue efforts because “they acted in disregard of that person’s safety, including intentionally disregarding a warning or notice.”

The penalty increases for unlawfully entering or remaining on a trail marked closed to the public. The bill proposes fines of $500 for a first violation, $750 for a second violation and $1,000 for a third and subsequent offenses.

Gabbard said he aims for the measure to deter people from taking off-limits hikes.

Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, submitted testimony in support of the measure, but she noted it could prevent people from requesting help when needed.

Rosario hasn’t submitted testimony for this bill; however on Monday, he said he doesn’t support it.

“We don’t want people to not call for help because they’re worried about cost,” the chief said.

If there’s legislation looking at recurring costs for one person who needs multiple rescues, Rosario said, he’d more likely support that.

Gabbard’s measure passed readings by the committees on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs and Water and Land. It was referred to Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees on Feb. 15.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.

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