Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Woman pulled from inferno

A man working nearby crawls through smoke and saves the day

By Gregg K. Kakesako


A surveyor working in the neighborhood went into a burning house yesterday morning on Wilhelmina Rise, crawled through black smoke and rescued an elderly disabled woman.

Fire officials told Carl Loando, 54, that his quick thinking saved Helen Choy's life.

"Don't make me out to be a hero," Loando told the Star-Advertiser. "I don't know what prompted me to go in there."

The fire started about 8 a.m. at the home of Kenneth and Helen Choy at 3953 Koko Drive. The fire and several explosions destroyed the four-bedroom home. Officials were trying to determine what caused the fire, which a neighbor said might have started on the lanai.

Helen Choy was taken to the Queen's Medical Center in stable condition. She was being treated in the intensive care unit, officials said. Her husband was also taken to the hospital; his condition was not available but he did not appear to be as seriously injured. Fire officials described the couple as in their mid-80s.

Loando was one of three employees of ControlPoint Surveying doing a boundary survey for a property on nearby Napali Place. Surveyor Christopher Newman said they saw smoke coming out of the Choys' house as they hiked the steep incline of Napali Place and called 911.

Loando said he saw Kenneth Choy standing at the door.

"I told him to get away from there. He said that he had dropped his wife whom he had been trying to get into a wheelchair," Loando said. "I don't know what prompted me, but I crawled into the house. It was pitch black."

Loando said he heard a woman's calls for help and followed the sound as he crawled about 20 feet through thick smoke. When he reached Helen Choy, she grabbed his hand.

"I don't know how I managed to do it," said Loando, who was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Newman said Loando was able to bring Choy to the garage, from which Newman and another passer-by carried her to the middle of the street away from the flames.

"Everything went really fast, within five minutes," Newman said. "It was the worst (fire) I've ever seen."

Minutes after they brought the woman out of the home, Newman said, he heard several explosions.

The woman was hooked up to a small oxygen tank and Newman speculated that the explosions may have come from other oxygen tanks in the home.

"Power lines started falling and crackling. The house exploded."

Loando said it was not only the flames and explosions that concerned him, but also the falling power lines — some of which were beginning to arc.

"One of them fell seconds after they moved Helen from the road," Loando added.

Tiffany Sato-Holt, who lives next door to the Choys, said she and her husband smelled smoke.

"My husband opened our bedroom window and saw black smoke," Sato-Holt said.

"My husband tried to get into the house, but was turned away because of the intense heat and smoke," she said. "It was quite frightening. I thought it might spread to our house."

Sato-Holt said firefighters told her that her home sustained only water damage. She said it looked like the fire started on the Choys' patio, which is next to their bedroom.

The billowing black smoke and the flames could be seen for miles since the home sits on a hillside.

Penelope Hazard, who lives on Pukalani Place below the house, said she heard four or five explosions and went outside with her mother to look. "Flames were shooting all over," she said.

Heather Little, who lives on the next ridge, said she was jogging down Sierra Drive when she noticed a "tiny fire" coming from the back of the home. When she rounded a corner and looked again about five minutes later, "It was just an absolute inferno."

About 34 firefighters from eight fire companies responded. The fire was brought under control at 9:40 a.m. Fire officials estimated the loss at $360,000 for the home and $50,000 for the Choys' belongings.

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