HANALEI — When Maleena Noll asked to visit where her grandmother is buried, she had no idea what lay in store.
“A lot of people who come here receive far more than they expect,” said Kurt Leong, a firefighter with the Kauai Fire Department, Hanalei station. “We get a lot of calls from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and people coming here are always treated well.”
Tuesday, the Florida 10-year-old battling leukemia was treated to her first-ever helicopter ride aboard Air 1 piloted by Kurt Ventura.
“This is awesome,” Maleena said, following her helicopter ride. “I thought I was going to lose my shoes. When the pilot turned the helicopter on the side, at first, I thought we would fall out — we were parallel with the water. I think I even saw a scuba diver’s head.”
Air 1 was being used as part of training exercises for new lifeguards at the Pine Trees lifeguard tower in Hanalei and Leong was able to work Maleena’s visit into the exercises.
“Her father’s mother was married to my brother,” said Joyce Nagata of Kilauea, who accompanied the Noll family. “They met while we were in Chicago, Illinois. When she died of cancer, she was buried here.”
Aron Noll, Maleena’s dad, said he’s been visiting Kauai since he was a youngster because his mom lived here. After she passed, his visits were less frequent, and Maleena, the oldest of four children, was experiencing her first visit to the island where her grandmother rests.
“We were encouraged by the hospital where Maleena had her treatments,” said Yvonne Noll, Maleena’s mother. “She just asked if she could visit this place. She wants to learn how to surf, swim with the dolphins and go to a luau.”
On checking in with Leong at the Hanalei fire station, the Noll family received Hanalei Fire Station T-shirts.
The helicopter ride was followed by a run to the drop zone on a jet ski for the training exercises, and the tour was cut short by the luncheon date with the Hamilton family who taught the Florida youngster how to surf.
“Can’t we just stay until they drop the guy?” Maleena asked. “It should happen real soon.”