WAILUA — Flash flood waters on the Wailua River stranded several visitors late Friday.
Two kayak tour companies, along with several individual rentals, left their boats and hiked the one mile to the Secret Falls area around 4 p.m. They were heading back toward the river crossing when the flash flooding started about 4:30 p.m.
“Our guide made it across to get an extra rope but said it was too dangerous,” said Yvette Scharf, of Unionville, Michigan. “It was very scary. The water was rising faster and faster and I thought it was going to be a real surviver moment.”
One of the guides went up the trail with various cellphones he collected from the tourists to try and catch reception from the nearest tower. He was able to call the office, which in turn called the Kauai Fire Department.
With daylight fading, personnel from Fire Station 2 in Kapaa hiked in to assist the stranded kayakers while Rescue 3 personnel aboard Air 1 airlifted 11 stranded kayakers to safety.
Time wasn’t with Air 1. It was clear that darkness would fall before all hikers could be airlifted out two at a time. Some of the larger, fit males were asked to cross if they could.
Yvette’s husband, Jordan Scharf, and their friend Nathan made the crossing and hiked back to the boat. A few more waited for the water to recede and crossed on their own.
“It’s just two less people they would have to lift out,” Jordan said.
“I think I’m pretty tough and wanted to try but they didn’t want any of the women to cross,” Yvette said.
Jordan and Yvette were on island to celebrate the wedding of their friends Rachel and Nathan on Tuesday.
“This canoeing trip was our gift,” Yvette said, laughing.
Dan Skinner of Michigan said he had hurt his knee while visiting Waimea Canyon on Wednesday and was being careful not to aggravate it on Friday.
Still, he said there would be no getting across the flooded river crossing even if his knee had been fine.
“We had a beautiful kayak trip up the river and we walked the trail, which was muddy and rocky, and had lunch at the water fall,” Skinner said. “We walked the mile back to where we should have crossed the river and we were stuck.”
The guide was reassuring and everything went as planned in getting the group to safety, he said.
“We really appreciate the efforts of the fire department,” Skinner said. “That was great.”
Air 1 dropped off the hikers in a clearing at Kamokila Hawaiian Village.
“We are the closest relieving point so whenever something happens the village is accessible to helicopters, boats and ambulances,” said “Big Dan” Finer, an employee at Kamokila.
The village was already closed for the day but Benjamin Fernandez returned to open it for the responders and hiking guests.
Finer, Fernandez and Ethan Kaauwai handed out bottled water and blankets. They turned the lights on under a shelter until the tour operators brought vans down to take them to their own vehicles.
“We gotta help people out here, it’s the aloha spirit,” Fernandez said.