comscore Teams to continue to search by air for missing adventurer | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

Teams to continue to search by air for missing adventurer

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
    Jolee Reiswig went missing at Boiling Pots, on Wailuku River, in the Big Island.
    Jolee Reiswig went missing at Boiling Pots, on Wailuku River, in the Big Island.

Kimberly Nichols-Gay says Kona resident Jolee Reiswig, her best friend, is “62 going on 16,” in great shape, and simply “the funnest.” The two have been on a mission since the beginning of the year.

“We had a plan to hike every hike and find every waterfall on this island,” she said. “We hiked up every creek in Waimea” and made it to every waterfall with views of Waipio Valley and Waimanu Valley. “… So we conquered Waimea. … We conquered Kohala.” And they were trying to conquer Hilo.

But late Monday afternoon, Reiswig, who is a swim instructor and operates a Kailua-Kona bed-and-breakfast and a recreational water activities business, which includes waterfall hikes, was swept down a raging Wailuku River in Hilo.

The Hawaii County Fire Department suspended its ground search Saturday for Reiswig, but will continue by air on Sunday.

Reiswig brought a male guest who was staying at her B&B to a pond above a series of three ponds called Boiling Pots along the Wailuku River.

“Jolee knew the rapids at Boiling Pots are deadly,” Nichols-Gay said. “Waterfalls everywhere. The creeks are so slippery. Rocks are covered with moss. There’s a 100-foot waterfall right there.”

She said Reiswig and the man were crossing the river to get a picture of the waterfall when he fell off his tube and she went to rescue him.

“She saw that he was struggling and drowning, so she swam to him and pulled him to the shore and pushed him up onto the rocks, and he turned around and then she was gone,” said Nichols-Gay. The man told Reiswig’s housekeeper at the B&B, who shared the story with her, she said.

“She’s a hero,” Nichols-Gay said.

Fire Capt. Miles Kawazoe of the Waiakea station said the man related that he and Reiswig were riding inflatable tubes at 5:30 p.m., when “suddenly they got caught in the current, and as they were trying to reach for the bank, she just fell off the tube and she got swept downstream — the rapids, actually.”

Kawazoe recalled that the river was swollen, moderately rough, with a strong current.

“There’s a little stream from the pond above into the ‘pot,’ which she got caught in,” he said.

They searched briefly after the 5:30 p.m. incident until sunset Monday. Then from first light to nightfall Tuesday through Saturday, scuba divers and a helicopter were deployed, and firefighters on the ground searched the ponds and along the river and riverbanks, but only recovered Reiswig’s swim tube and noodle.

Fire officials said the “raging river conditions” throughout the week prevented a dive search of some sections.

“The water is just too high right now,” Kawazoe said Friday, and divers could be swept downstream.

Aerial searches were made along the roughly 3 miles of the river that leads to Hilo Bay, he said.

Originally from Drummond, Okla., Reiswig went to the Big Island as a student in 1994, decided to make it her home and has been sharing it ever since with visitors and locals alike.

“She has a real love of the island,” said Jill Thornton, spokeswoman for University of the Nations Kona, where Reiswig studied. “I think the thing that stands out the most is her sharing her love and passion for the islands with other people.

“A lot of people were really, really surprised to hear about what happened to her,” since Reiswig knew “what’s dangerous and what’s not.”

“It’s really a terrible tragedy,” Thornton added. “I know people who went paddleboarding, kayaking and hiking with her. She was just a real leader in showing people the beauty of the place, a real outdoorsy person.”

Reiswig’s many friends included other former students at the University of the Nations Kona, which provides training to be evangelical missionaries, and its affiliate Youth With a Mission, or YWAM, with which she was involved in the 1990s.

“She always had a big smile on her face and never complained about a thing,” said Nichols-Gay, who was with YWAM in the late ’80s.


Adrienne Ferrante on Thursday posted a photo of Reiswig leading a hike, writing: “When you are called to be a forerunner — don’t be content to ‘follow’ — get out and explore, break down barriers & walls and lead!”

Reiswig’s niece, Tara Mahan-Storjohann, responded: “Thank you so much loving on my aunt Jolee. She is so blessed to be surrounded by friends that love her so much, appreciate her for the crazy wonderful woman that she is and accept her.”

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up