KAILUA-KONA — For the second time within four months Hawaii County firefighters were able to successfully bring swimmers to safety after getting trapped in a flash flood on the private property of Anna’s Ranch in Waimea.
While four patients were initially reported trapped at Cowboy’s Pond Saturday evening, emergency personnel were able to assist one man to safety and a technical rescue was performed to bring the other man out of danger. The four had gone swimming on the private property during a flash flood advisory.
“Like the previous incident with the college students, they didn’t heed the warning,” said Fire Chief Darren Rosario on Monday.
On Nov. 3, Hawaii firefighters performed a swift-water rescue for three swimmers trapped under a waterfall in the same area. The three were part of group of 13 students and staff from Youth with a Mission from University of Nations in Kona who had gone to Cowboy’s Pond. Flash flood conditions were also reported by Hawaii County Civil Defense.
The Saturday incident involved visitors to the Big Island, according to Hawaii Police Maj. Robert Wagner. Two of the individuals, a 21-year-old man from Texas and 22-year-old man from Indiana were assisted to safety.
The patients, ranging from ages 18 to 22, were initially reported trapped due to a fast-moving river with flash flooding conditions after nightfall above Anna’s Pond, also known as “The Place.”
The Hawaii Fire Department first received the call at about 6:07 p.m. According to Hawaii Police, fire personnel reported there was one male party who called it in and was stuck in a tree. There was another male party on a cliff face about 10-15 feet down and there were two other males on the Kawaihae side of the stream unable to cross and return to safety.
Two fire department members arrived at 6:25 p.m. and located all individuals unharmed. Two men self-extricated, and a third was assisted to safety, a press release from Hawaii Fire states.
The fourth man was located on the Kawaihae side of the river and required technical rescue. Rosario said Saturday’s rescue including rappelling with the danger factors being cold, dark and wet. Rescue companies from Kailua-Kona and Waiakea stations also responded.
The patient declined medical treatment and was released to HPD. Two of the younger males were not identified and left the scene prior to officer contact, according to police.
“They did a really good job once again,” Rosario said of the responders. “They did their job and everyone got to go home safely.”
Wagner said the Texas man and Indiana man were cited for trespassing and have scheduled court date on April 2 at the South Kohala District Court in Waimea.
Simple trespass is a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000. The YWAM staff and students were cited for trespassing in December and were sentenced to perform community service hours.
The chief said the area of Anna’s Ranch and the backside of Waipio Valley is known to be a dangerous area. But the publicity of private properties on social media has brought more trespassers to Anna’s Ranch, putting the visitors at risk.
“There’s a lot of areas on the Hawaii Island that can give them the same type of experiences as the private areas,” Rosario said.
The chief said the department doesn’t calculate what these rescue operations cost as it is already included in the overall budget.
For fiscal year 2019-20, the department submitted a $48 million budget. About $17 million of that is state contract revenue for EMS and $0.5 million for Hapuna water safety officers.
Within the budget, Rosario said, costs for equipment repairs, training, overtime and aviation are factored into the overall number – adding they project 25-50 flight hours per month as part of the budget within aviation line item.
The state Legislature is currently looking at a bill that would fine individuals who need rescue after intentionally entering areas where warning notices have been posted. The measure would seek reimbursement when the rescued person required search and rescue efforts because “they acted in disregard of that person’s safety, including intentionally disregarding a warning or notice.”
The penalty increases for unlawfully entering or remaining on a trail that has been marked closed to the public. The bill proposes fines of $500 for a first violation; $750 for a second violation; and $1,000 for a third and subsequent offenses.
Rosario hasn’t submitted testimony for this bill, however on Monday he said he didn’t support it.
“We don’t want people to not call for help because they’re worried about cost,” the chief said.
If there’s legislation looking at recurring costs for one person who needs multiple rescues, Rosario said, he’d more likely support that.
But the measure currently being considered passed readings in committees on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs and Water and Land. It was referred to Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees on Feb. 15.