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Missing hiker rescued after HPD locates cell phone signal

By Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 7:38 p.m. HST, Oct 27, 2013

In a search that would have been impossible before the development of cellphones, rescue crews today found a 26-year-old hiker last seen more than four days earlier, when he told family members he was going to hike a trail above the Nuuanu Pali.

Jan Vankat was found at about 11:15 a.m. in serious but stable condition wedged against a tree after an apparent 100-yard fall on the town side of the Koolau Mountains, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said. 

He had no obvious injuries and was "conscious but not totally alert," possibly suffering from exposure and dehydration, Seelig said. 

"What happened, we don't know," Seelig said.

At 6 a.m. Wednesday, Vankat, a visitor from Sweden who was staying with an uncle, told his family he was headed to the Pali Notches Trail and would be home in the evening, police said.

They reported him missing on Friday, and police began searching for him. Honolulu CrimeStoppers issued a missing persons alert Saturday for Vankat, describing him as "a very experienced hiker."

At 9 this morning, police were able to pinpoint the location of Vankat's cellphone in the mountains. The fire department sent its helicopter to search about 30 minutes later.

From the Pali Notches, it is possible to hike to the highest peak in the Koolaus, Konahuanui, but the climb is rather hair-raising, including a sheer ascent by rope through a section known as the "Chimney," Seelig said.

On the Nuuanu side, vegetation obscures much of the terrain, but the helicopter crew was able to use its "rotor wash" to blow the foliage aside for a clearer view, Seelig said. 

The crew spotted a backpack at the base of a steep drop, and a rescue team rappelled down to retrieve it. Inside was Vankat's cellphone.

The hiker himself was found 100 yards farther down, where a tree had stopped his fall or slide, Seelig said.

It's unclear how long he had been there. Seelig said hikers reported seeing Vankat's name in the logbook for people hiking the trail, but there was no time associated with the sign-in.

In September 2012, a 30-year-old Mililani woman fell 100 yards in the same area and was critically injured.

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