Lost hiker from Texas found alive in Koke’e

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

River.

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.

Fears

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.

“He became

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.”

Vetter also

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

all night.”

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

Waimea River.

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.

When Vetter

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

area.

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.

Three

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

day pack.

Fears said Vetter wasn’t able to talk to reporters because he was

physically drained.

“I think he is gong to sleep all night long, and may

well into the next morning,” Fears said. “He went through an experience.”

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