Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Tourists stranded on Big Island in Hawaii rescued


A group of tourists riding all-terrain vehicles in a remote, mountainous part of Hawaii’s Big Island had to climb trees to keep from being swept over a 22.5m waterfall during a flash flood.

They were on a tour with Ride the Rim, a company that runs tours around the Waipio Valley, and the 14 guests and three guides set out at about 1pm on Monday, owner Eileen Levin said.

When the group stopped to swim in a waterfall that was part of the tour, three visitors dipped into the pool that sits between two waterfalls, including the 22.5m drop downstream of the swimming hole.

That was when the waterfall feeding the pool started gushing, visitor Jill Bolstridge, 33, of New York said.

“We pulled ourselves out right in the nick of time, because four or five feet [1.2m to 1.5m] to the left, we would have had nothing to grab onto, and the water was so strong that we would have been taken over the edge,” Bolstridge said.

The swimmers scrambled to safety on a platform near the water’s edge, but a breakaway bridge they needed to get back to the rest of the tour group and the trail had been washed away to the side. The current was too strong to safely cross, so the swimmers and a handful of other tourists who had walked across the bridge were stranded.

“There was no way anyone could get into the water after this happened, because there was no margin of error,” Levin said.

Tour guides called for help, but the weather conditions initially prevented a helicopter from getting to the site, Levin said.

The stranded group was waiting on a wooden platform overlooking the waterfalls, but as the water level continued to rise, they feared the platform could be swept away and over the falls, so they climbed nearby trees and waited for help.

Eventually, a rescue helicopter from the Hawaii County Fire Department lifted the tourists and guides to safety.

No one was injured, the Fire Department said.

Levin said her company did not receive a warning about flash flooding until more than an hour after the incident occurred. The tourists were offered refunds and a second free trip with the company, she said.

All of the Hawaiian Islands were under a flash-flood watch through Tuesday night, the US National Weather Service said.

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