HANAKAPIAI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kaua'i firefighters, with help from area lifeguards and Air One, recovered the body of a female hiker who was swept away while attempting to cross Hanakapi'ai stream yesterday.
The woman has not been officially identified, but Hawaii News Now has learned she was in her 40s and from New York. She was vacationing on Kaua'i with her friend, a doctor who is also from New York. He reportedly watched her get pulled away in the strong current, but was unable to help her.
According to Kaua'i officials, hikers who were leaving the Hanakapi'ai Valley around 4 p.m. Thursday notified Kee Beach lifeguards that 55 people were stranded on the far side of the Hanakapi'ai stream.
"Got to the falls and it just told us to leave and we started to leave and by the time we started to leave—the river crossings were already too high," said Daniel Wright, one of the hikers who was stuck in the valley.
According to the National Weather Service, about four inches of rain fell Thursday afternoon above Hanakapi'ai. Rescue crews were sent out to assist the hikers, but witnesses say a woman was swept away when she tried to make it on her own before help arrived.
"They should've waited. It's sad because these things could be prevented," said Wright, who admitted he and his friends shouldn't have gone out to Hanakapi'ai since it was raining.
Winds were so strong and the waters were so rough, all 55 hikers and two rescuers were forced to stay in the valley overnight.
"They had an uncomfortable cold night, but they were all in relatively good health for what they went through," said Kaua'i Fire Department Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas.
The group was able to cross the stream safely this morning after water levels dropped. No one was injured, though officials say about ten people were airlifted out, while the rest of the group hiked out on their own.
"All personnel are accounted for and no further medical attention was needed for the other parties," said Battalion Chief Ornellas. "This morning we were able to locate the body of the victim and be able to recover her."
Kaua'i officials say it's a blessing more people weren't seriously injured or killed. The stranded hikers ranged in ages from young children to adults with various levels of outdoor experience.
"We owe it to them," said Wright, looking towards the emergency responders. "Thanks to the fire department for hooking us up."
Making matters worse, Kaua'i police confirm eight vehicles – some belonging to the hikers' forced to stay overnight – were broken into at Kee Beach.
Officials are waiting to notify family members before releasing the victim's name. Kaua'i officials say this is the seventh drowning this year.