Firefighters rescue 13 hikers during flash flood in Waimea

HILO — Firefighters rescued 13 hikers, two of whom suffered minor injuries, after they were stranded in a flash flood after trespassing into Parker and Anna ranches in Waimea on Saturday.

West Hawaii Fire Battalion Chief Michael Grace said Sunday the hikers, all from Youth With a Mission and University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, were trespassing at the time.

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“That’s all private property, and access is actually through Parker Ranch …,” Grace said. “But once they get to where the stream is, that’s Anna Ranch Trust.”

The police booking log didn’t contain any Saturday arrests for trespassing.

According to a Fire Department statement, the alarm was sounded at 4:18 p.m. and 13 units were involved overall, including a county helicopter and two medic units. The first unit arrived a minute later. Some of the rescuers used all-terrain vehicles.

“This was a very complicated, technical rescue. We actually utilized both our rescue companies, the one from Hilo and the one from Kailua-Kona. It was very fortunate there was no fatalities,” Grace said.

Arriving firefighters found three of the hiking party on the west side of the mountain stream, which was fed by a waterfall. They told rescuers there was a total of 13 swimming in the stream when a flash flood occurred without warning. The search began immediately along the stream for those missing.

Chopper 1 found three others walking through a pasture to the north. Others were found stranded on rocks along the stream. They were airlifted to a staging area to be treated by medics. The final three hikers were found on a rock ledge behind the waterfall. Rescuers had to rappel down cliffs estimated to be 150 to 200 feet in dark, windy and rainy conditions. The rescue took about five hours.

“I don’t know how they did it, but they found these three behind the waterfall,” Grace said. “And it was quite a technical rescue to get down to them. “They had to rappel from above the waterfall, get to them behind the waterfall and bring them back by ropes to the area above the waterfall. … That was done by hand. It was at night, so after dark, as well.”

Neither of the injuries was serious.

Grace acknowledged there have been numerous rescues of hikers associated with Youth With a Mission/University of the Nations.

“I can tell you offhand, in the last year, four,” he said.

On one occasion almost four years ago, a Waipio Valley hike taken by University of the Nations students turned deadly.

Lindsey Nickerson, a 22-year-old woman from Oskaloosa, Iowa, went missing on Nov. 29, 2014, while hiking to Hiilawe Falls. Her body was found the following day in about five feet of water in Hiilawe Stream. Fire officials said at the time that Nickerson, who planned the hike in the rugged Hamakua valley, became separated from a group of about 25 hikers shortly into the hike.

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Nickerson was studying to become a missionary.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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