WAIMEA — A 40-year-old Texas visitor was found yesterday afternoon by a
state Department of Land and Natural Resources helicopter after he got lost for
two days while hiking valleys in West Kaua’i.
Mark Vetter, on retreat with
a church group from Texas, began his hike on Kukui Trail in Koke’e State Park
at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and got lost.
He spent the night in the rain and
cold in Koaie Valley before he was spotted in the valley by the helicopter
before noon Thursday, Walker said.
Lost for 18 hours, Vetter was found
about three miles north of an intersecting point at Kukui Trail and Waimea
The state helicopter, pulled from a DNLR conservation project on
Kaua’i for the rescue, picked up Vetter and brought him to a government
shooting range in Kekaha, said Waimea Fire Station Capt. David Walker, who
helped coordinate a helicopter search by Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility
and the DNLR.
A county fire truck then transported Vetter to the Waimea
Fire Station, where he was given food and water.
Vetter had brought a
bottle of water when he began his hike but drank from waterfalls when he ran
out of water, Walker said.
Vetter suffered multiple scrapes and cuts, but
apparently didn’t require hospitalization.
Vetter later returned to the
Kipu home of Byron Fears to recuperate. Fears is a friend of the church group
of which Vetter is a member.
Vetter got lost because he took the “wrong
turn,” Fears said.
After reaching the Waimea River at the end of Kukui
Trail, he turned left and headed mauka instead of going makai, bound for Waimea
town, as he had originally planned and told his friends from Texas.
said Vetter ran into campers, some visitors, who gave him “unclear information”
about his location.
“He asked because he felt he wasn’t in the right place
and ended up going to Koaie Canyon,” Fears said.
Vetter forged ahead and
ended up five miles past the last campsite, Lonomea, Fears said.
disoriented and he realized he wasn’t going in the right direction and turned
around before dark (Wednesday).” Fears said.
The terrain he crossed was
treacherous at points, Fears said. “He had to hang onto the sides of cliffs,
grabbing on to roots.”
As evening approached and it began to rain, Vetter
found shelter under a overhang in Koaie Valley.
Possibly because he was
frustrated, he prayed, Fears said.
“While he was there, he said he felt
like he was communicating with Hawaiians spirits,” Fears said. “He is a
religious guy, but this isn’t a part of his religious faith.”
changed into a clean set of clothes and covered himself with his dirty clothes
to protect himself from the cold and rain, Fears said.
The hike had taken a
physical toll on Vetter, Walker said.
“He was tired,” Walker said. “He had
been drinking from waterfalls, had a couple of candy bars. He didn’t have an
emergency kit. He had multiple scratches and small cuts. He didn’t sleep well
At 6 a.m. Thursday, he began his hike, apparently in the
direction of Waimea.
Between the morning and just before noon, the state
helicopter spotted him, but only because they saw a blur of red in the
underbrush – Vetter’s waving hands, which were wrapped in red bandannas to
cover cuts and scrapes.
On a second pass, the helicopter, after Vetter had
identified himself as the lost hiker, landed on a rock on the side of the
But because the helicopter was low on fuel, the rescue had to
be executed quickly and efficiently, Fears said.
On instructions, Vetter
jumped into the aircraft and was whisked to safety, Fears said.
didn’t return from his hike Wednesday afternoon, his friends called the Kaua’i
Fire Department substation in Waimea.
A U.S. Navy helicopter launched from
the Pacific Missile Range Facility Thursday morning and headed to the search
Walker dispatched the county’s rescue helicopters and placed a call
to PMRF’s Air Operations requesting help from the facility’s highly trained
search and rescue personnel, said Sheila Heathcote Arthur, with PMRF’s public
affairs office in Kekaha.
A ground search also was conducted.
firefighters from Waimea searched the Kukui Trail and Andrade and a friend of
the missing man, John Boyles, started a search from the trailhead by Waimea
River near Waimea town and headed mauka, Walker said.
The fire department’s
rescue unit also was ready to be deployed, Walker said.
Fears praised the
coordinated efforts by all government agencies involved.
Before he got
lost, Vetter, who stands 5’10”, weighs 165 pounds and has blue eyes, was last
seen wearing khaki shorts, a light shirt, red bandanna, brown hat and a black
Fears said Vetter wasn’t able to talk to reporters because he was
“I think he is gong to sleep all night long, and may
well into the next morning,” Fears said. “He went through an experience.”