On April 9, 1966, University of Hawaii students Donald Coolidge, Daniel Hotchkiss and Robert Peyton set out from Kokee in an attempt to hike to Haena by way of Kalalau Valley.
Ten days later, when they were reported missing, Kokee park maintenance foreman George Niitani, along with Tsutomu Yamamoto, Richard Sugawa and Ford Okada went looking for them.
After finding their tracks, campsite and discarded shoes in the area of Hanakoa Falls, the searchers were able to determine that the hikers had been attempting a treacherous descent into Kalalau Valley from about 4,000 feet in elevation.
Jack Harter, who’d opened Kauai’s first helicopter tour company in 1962, then volunteered to enter the search with his Bell Ranger helicopter and his mechanic, Louis Galaza.
“I had a hunch they might have descended to the edge of the Na Pali Coast where further descent is absolutely impossible. Once they reached the edge, return up the slippery fern jungle slopes would be equally impossible. This proved to be what happened,” Harter later said.
Aloft just as fog was closing in, Harter and Galaza spotted one of the lost trio sitting on the edge of a narrow ridge around 2,300 feet above Hanakoa Falls.
Harter approached, and by balancing one skid at an angle against the ridge in strong winds, while Galaza helped the hiker into the helicopter, he effected a safe rescue.
He then continued his search and found the other hikers about 100 yards away in the bottom of a narrow gorge.
Since a landing there was impossible, he returned to Kokee to find Marine Corps Capt. E. T. Forster ready to assist with his big Marine helicopter equipped with a winch and a cage.
With Harter leading the way to the rescue site, Forster hovered over the gorge and pulled the students out with the winch.
Harter later said that he received thank you letters from the trio’s parents, but got no acknowledgment from the young men he and Forster had rescued.