Kauai first responders today recovered the body of a woman who was swept up in high waters while trying to cross the swollen Hanakapiai Stream on Thursday afternoon.
Lifeguards and firefighters also helped 54 hikers to safety who spent a long, cold night in Hanakapiai Valley after water crossings became impassable.
The woman who died, believed to be in her 40s, has not yet been identified, according to a Kauai County spokesperson.
Rescue crews found the woman’s body downstream at around 8:30 a.m. and airlifted her out of the valley.
The woman’s fiance was able to hike out of the area Thursday. He is receiving assistance from Life’s Bridges, a volunteer-based grief counseling service, according to excutive director Gina Kaulukukui.
Eyewitnesses described a harrowing scene at the popular hike as the woman tried to traverse the waterway and was then caught up by quick-moving currents.
They said they were helpless to assist her, and watched in horror when at one point she appeared to get her footing only to be swept away again.
Eric Wolfbrandt, 51, of Phoenix, said about 20 people were on a bank and saw the woman attempting to cross the stream.
He and his wife, Myrna, shed tears as they recounted what they saw.
“We couldn’t do anything,” Eric Wolfbrandt said, adding that the water was about 4 feet deep and the woman appeared to be about 5 feet tall.
She was crossing the stream with the help of a rope.
The 54 hikers who spent the night in the valley tried to make the best of things, the couple said. They built campfires, constructed a shelter out of tarpaulin and huddled together for warmth
Dan and Karie Costin, of San Francisco, had smiles on their faces after they drove away from the hike this morning.
They were cold, wet and hungry. And to make matters worse, their rental car had been broken into at the trailhead; a passenger window was broken and a pair of shoes taken. But, they were alive, they said.
“We didn’t prepare” for a long hike, said Dan Costin, 32. “We know better.”
Susan Williamson, 45, of Washington state, was with her 17-year-old son and some friends on the hike.
“Everybody huddled together” as they waited for day to break, she said.
The trouble began about 4 p.m. Thursday, when the Kauai Fire Department was dispatched to rescue 54 hikers who were stranded on the far side of the stream after they were unable to cross the rising waters. The female hiker attempted to cross before rescuers arrived when she was swept away.
Rescuers attempted to assist the remaining group of hikers Thursday night, but strong winds and the stream’s high water level prevented their exit, forcing the group and two rescue specialists to spend the night in the valley.
All of the hikers were able to cross the stream to safety this morning when the water receded, said Kauai Fire Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas.
Nine hikers were flown out of the area via helicopter and the rest of the group opted to hike out on their own.
There were no reported injuries among the 54 hikers.
This is the seventh drowning reported on Kauai this year.
Ornellas said the conditions in the area — bouts of heavy rain and high winds — made the rescue Thursday morning difficult.
About 14 first responders participated in the rescue efforts.