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‘Heroic effort’ saves swimmer

KILAUEA — Rescuers airlifted a Seattle woman from rough surf in waters off Kauapea Beach on Saturday afternoon, a rescue that a local doctor called “a miracle.”

“Thanks to a heroic effort by many agencies working together, Kauai was spared great tragedy,” wrote Dr. Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association.

Firefighters from the Hanalei station, Rescue 3 aboard Air 1, and lifeguards on Jet Ski responded to the scene just after noon, when it was reported that a female swimmer needed assistance.

Two firefighters from the Hanalei station swam out to the woman while two lifeguards arrived on Jet Ski. Officials report that the woman had swallowed a lot of water and was semi-conscious. Due to the difficult conditions, Air 1 arrived on scene with a Billy Pugh net to airlift the woman and one rescuer to shore. The second firefighter was brought to shore by Jet Ski.

The 33-year-old woman was transported by medics to Wilcox Memorial Hospital in serious condition.

Downs wrote that the woman was standing in waist-deep water when she was taken off her feet and swept out to sea.

The woman was exhausted and in rough water “as it swirled and smashed around near a rock ledge.” Lifeguards on a Jet Ski were having difficultly picking her up.

“Then, as a miracle from on high, a litter basket suddenly appeared next to our firefighters and the woman. Helicopter Air One had arrived, after a full scramble response from Lihue Airport,” Downs wrote. “The woman was in the basket and then onto the beach within seconds, and there our paramedics were waiting with their advanced life support equipment. The woman was in severe respiratory distress, her lungs full of water. Our paramedics sedated her with medication and expertly got a breathing tube into her windpipe and got her hooked up to the ventilator with 100 percent oxygen flowing directly into her lungs.”

Rescuers “estimate that she wouldn’t have survived another minute on her own,” Downs wrote.

On Sunday, Downs wrote that the woman was “doing very well in the ICU and she will recover and get to continue her life’s work as a physician.”

Officials warn that Kauapea Beach, also known as Secret Beach, is known for extremely strong currents and dangerous shore breaks, especially during the winter, when surf is strongest along the North Shore.

A high surf advisory was in effect for all north- and west-facing shores until 6 p.m. Sunday.

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