WAILUA — Peter Fisher said Saturday’s events on the Wailua River were unimaginable.
“It’s sickening, shocking and numbing,” said the owner of Kayak Wailua. “You look at the rest of the people on the tour, who are in disbelief that it happened.”
At 1 p.m. Saturday, 10 people and one tour guide with Kayak Wailua launched from the Wailua River Marina, heading to Uluwehi Falls, also known as Secret Falls.
About 5 p.m., the group was hiking back from the waterfall, attempting to cross a stream on foot to get back to their kayaks, when Aimee Abrahim, a visitor from El Cajon, California, was swept away by a sudden wall of water, Fisher said.
The crossing is about three miles up from Kuhio Highway, Fisher said.
“In seconds, it went from knee-deep to over their heads,” he said. “It was a blink of an eye.”
Eleven personnel from the Kauai Fire Department, along with Air 1 and Medic 23, responded to the scene. Two staff members from Kayak Wailua, according to a release from the Kauai Fire Department.
Air 1, with Rescue 3, aboard flew three trips to the river and airlifted the others on the tour to Wailua Homesteads Park, where a landing zone was established. They were then turned over to Engine 2 and Medic 23. The victims were checked by the first responders and released.
The search for Abrahim, 32, continued until 8 p.m. until it was called off due to darkness and hazardous flooding conditions.
The search resumed 7:30 a.m. Sunday and Abrahim’s body was recovered a short while later.
“We were hoping it was a mistake and she spent the night somewhere,” Fisher said.
Fisher told The Garden Island Monday his company takes responsibility for Abrahim’s death.
“We were their guide,” he said.
Abrahim’s sister, who hasn’t been named, was also swept out was able to swim to shore, Fisher said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Kauai at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, three hours after the start of the tour.
The guide knew about the warning and cut the tour short. They were heading back to the marina when Abrahim was separated from the group, Fisher said.
Every day, the company checks weather conditions from a number of different outlets, like NWS and the United States Geological Survey, he added.
“We got little kids and seniors. We’re always keeping an eye on it,” he said. “When we hear rumblings of thunder, we turn around. When we get a flood warning, we turn around. If things deteriorate, we turn around.”
All tours on the Wailua River were canceled Friday due to inclement weather but were allowed to operate Saturday, Fisher added.
He described Saturday as a “freak situation.”
“Had they gotten to the crossing five minutes before or five minutes later, they would have been fine,” he said. “They just happened to be there at the worst possible time.”
In the 20 years Kayak Wailua has operated, there has never been a death, Fisher said.
“No one has capsized their kayak and drowned,” he said. “Kayaks have been tipped over, but no one was been seriously injured or killed.”
In light of the incident on Saturday, Fisher said tours will be canceled if the NWS issues a flash flood watch or warning.
The flash flood warning for the island was called off about 8 p.m. Saturday.
Business reporter Alden Alayvilla contributed reporting to this story