Five men from the Kauai Fire Department were honored with a national award for their rescue of a pilot and his student following a 2009 aircraft crash in Hanapepe.
The department’s Rescue 3 team — Capt. Charles Metivier, Capt. Kalani Abreu, rescue specialists Roy Constantino and Francisco Garcia and Air-1 helicopter pilot Ken D’Attilio — were honored last month in Chicago with the 2010 International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor during the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ annual conference.
It was the first time in 41 years that a firefighter from Hawaii received that award.
"My crew may say it was all in a day’s work, but I will tell you that very few people can do this day’s work and live to tell about it," Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman said in a news release.
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. recently presented the team with certificates of appreciation for their bravery.
On Aug. 1, 2009, the rescue team and Air-1 responded to an overdue light sport weight-shift control airplane in Hanapepe Valley. The pilot, Thomas Defino, encountered severe turbulence during descent when he lost control of the aircraft. A couple of seconds before the aircraft crashed into the side of a mountain cliff, Defino deployed a parachute for him and his student, Neil Shoemaker, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The parachute became entangled in trees, preventing the aircraft from sliding farther down the cliff.
Westerman said the team encountered 30-knot winds, rain and thick fog as they responded. After the wreckage was spotted scattered along a ridge and in a deep ravine, Constantino and Garcia were lowered through a canopy of trees. Both spotted Defino and Shoemaker trapped under the wreckage.
Shoemaker was taken to a temporary landing site where Abreu awaited to assist. Shoemaker was then flown to Burns Field, where paramedics took him to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital.
Worsening weather conditions and nightfall forced rescuers to suspend operations until daylight. Constantino and Garcia spent the night in the valley, tending to Defino. They splinted his legs and made a makeshift blanket out of leaves to keep him warm and protect him from the rain, Westerman said in the news release.
The next morning, Metivier, Abreu and D’Attilio returned to extract Defino in a rescue basket.
That same morning, the team also extracted an injured hunter stranded on Mokihana Ridge, about 20 miles west of Hanapepe Valley.