For 2 decades, Valley Isle business key to Maui’s emergency response

Updated: Nov. 4, 2019 at 5:54 PM HST
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MAUI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Multiple shark sightings off South Maui closed a stretch of Kihei shoreline on Monday.

People were warned to stay out of the ocean from Cove Park to the Kihei Boat Ramp.

Pilot Don Shearer was part of the Maui Fire Department’s Air One crew that spotted at least three and as many as five tiger sharks off of Kamaole Beach Parks 1 and 2.

Authorities had been on alert after a report of dead or dying fish from a damaged akule net in the waters off Kamaole 3 over the weekend.

“One shark was about 20 feet away from two stand up paddle boarders,” said Shearer, the owner of Windward Aviation.

It’s all in a day’s work for Shearer.

MFD doesn’t own its own helicopter. So for nearly two decades, the department has had a contract with the company to handle air operations.

On Sunday, Shearer flew crews to the bottom of a cliff in Haiku where a truck with two young women inside had plunged into the ocean.

"We had to recover their bodies. It was a horrible, sad day for us," said Shearer.

The company's four pilots have tackled all kinds of missions, including many wildfires this year in Maui County.

"We have over 23,000 acres that have pretty much burned this year. A normal year would be about 4,000 so you can do the math. It has been astonishing," said Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino.

Shearer said the most challenging fire this year was the one that started near Waiko Road in July, forcing thousands of people to evacuate from Kihei and Maalaea.

The company had four helicopters up, each one equipped with a bucket that carries 120 gallons of water.

"It was consuming 25 acres a minute and we're sitting there like, 'What do we do?" recalled Shearer.

Two weeks ago, a raging fire came dangerously close to homes in the Kahana Ridge area.

"We try not to dip out of private pools unless those properties are in imminent danger or have the possibility to be burned," said Shearer.

A grateful family sent the company a gift and a thank you note, including a drawing from a child.

"(He) drew the house, drew the helicopter, drew the swimming pool," said Shearer. "You see stuff like that, it just kind of brings you to your knees. It's so nice to be appreciated like that."

An MFD spokesman said the county administration is aware of the budget shortfall the department is facing due to all the wildfires. The agency will be requesting extra funds from the county in the near future.

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