‘Her lucky day’: Kauai woman recounts story of survival after being swept out to sea

Updated: Nov. 18, 2019 at 10:14 PM HST
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WAINIHA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 49-year-old Kauai woman who was swept out to sea by flash flooding early Sunday while trying to rescue her hunting dogs says she barely survived the ordeal.

“I grew up surfing and scuba diving and body surfing in Hawaii, so that’s literally what saved me," said Tamara Kondratief, who was swept a quarter mile out to sea but was able to get back to shore.

“I was exhausted and I was in pain, but I knew if I didn’t do this last task that I was going to die."

First responders were called out to help about 12:40 a.m., after Kondratief’s family watched in horror as the woman was carried away by floodwaters.

Because the road was flooded, Kondratief, her boyfriend and his son had jumped into a neighbor’s small boat to try to check on their dogs.

But the boat flipped in the rapid waters.

The two others made it to safety, but Kondratief was carried away by the rough current.

“I was hitting gigantic pieces of wood. I was hitting some rocks, too, some really, really big boulders,” she said. "There were some points where I could tell I was knocked unconscious and I was like coming to and basically inhaling water.

Once her survival instincts kicked in, she removed her waterlogged clothes and boots.

“You’ve got to make yourself as buoyant and as light as possible,” Kondratief said. “That’s when I was really dying, was when I had all my clothes on. It was dragging me down to the bottom of the river.”

Downstream, neighbors heard the woman’s cries for help and called authorities.

Units responded and began searching for her.

After getting swept out to sea, Kondratief was miraculously able to make her way back to shore.

She was located on a shoreline just below a cliff. Hanalei firefighters pulled her to safety.

“They were lucky that this ohana’s still intact because of either her sheer will to survive or the akua picking her up and nestling her on the cliff below. We just helped finish off the mission and get her to care,” Kauai’s Deputy Fire Chief Kilipaki Vaughan said.

“This was her lucky day,” Vaughan added.

Kondratief was treated for bruises and cuts on her head. She was taken to Wilcox Medical Center, where she remains hospitalized.

This incident happened as a flash flood warning was in effect for Kauai as heavy rains soaked the island.

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