*Editor’s Note:

Yesterday, the news reported that a woman in her 50s or 60s was found floating facedown near the Makapuu Tidepools. Sadly, she was pronounced dead at the hospital. The report did not say if she was a Hawaii resident or a tourist. Our blogger Katherine Finch was hiking the trail when rescue teams arrived yesterday morning. She shares her experience from that day as well as safety tips for visitors.

Hey Folks, “Let’s be careful out there.”

The evening news in Hawaii is usually filled with reports of street closures, surf swells, some local business happenings and unfortunately (most recently and coming off the high tourist season), news of a rescue or tragedy. I don’t mean to imply that only tourists get hurt here. Locals are familiar with the high-risk areas and activities in Hawaii, and therefore, approach them with more caution. Still, no one can know for sure what plans these natural beauties have in store for us.

I started my day with an early morning walk up the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail as part of a photo group I belong to. I was dawdling with my new camera on the way back down when I passed a local family who seemed distraught. The path takes a sharp turn at a ridge line, overlooking a rocky outcropping a few hundred feet below. I’ve wrote about a similar off path’ area that is a popular way for the very adventurous folk to get down to the water, but I did not recommend it.

View from Makapuu Hike, looking south towards Koko Head Crater.

The group told me that barely minutes before they had seen a person on the rocks (possibly fishing). The person was at the water’s edge when a large wave hit him. (Actually, it was probably an average-sized wave, but the area is renown for h3 surges and currents that can make a wave more powerful). The wave knocked him into the water, and the family watched as the person was swept under and then resurfaced, dangerously close to the rocks.

It took the group a few minutes to realize that the person did not appear to be swimming or moving. That’s when I got there. They were just calling 911, and a guy from the group started down the ridge line towards the water to see if he could help. Let me add, this was an impossible ridge line – very dangerous, but he practically ran it. I had binoculars and could see that this might not end well. It’s very difficult to stand and watch something when you can do nothing to help.

Looking down at the rocky outcrop where the accident happened.

As a group, we waited for rescue to arrive. First was a lifeguard who walked the ridge and assessed the area. Second was a jet ski below, manned with two lifeguards and a rescue sled. They had most likely launched from the very popular, but dangerous, Sandy Beach just down the road. The rescue helicopter arrived about the same time with a basket. We could see the lifeguards on the jet ski, performing CPR on the victim before putting the person in the basket to be flown to Sandy’s. An ambulance was already waiting in the Sandy’s parking lot.

And then it was all over, we walked down to the parking lot to rejoin the group and go home with very sad thoughts. Once home, I saw the news had reported two near drownings that morning on other parts of the island.

Video from atop Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, where a rescue helicopter searched for missing woman. Second half of video shows the rough ocean conditions at sea level.

I love Hawaii. I love that it offers so much to see and to do and that whatever you do, you’re surrounded by beauty and nature. But its wonderful isolation means that the water hitting the coastlines has already been traveling for 3,000 miles. It then crashes onto the unprotected island coastline with so much power. The crashes come in spurts and can be inconsistent but exceptionally dangerous. The ocean has to be respected; never taking your eye off of it, even for second.

There are areas that should only be seen from a distance. The temptation is great, I know, to get even closer. I’ve done it and have been injured. I’ve seen my friends injured. We learn hard lessons. I want to be the one to learn the lesson, and then teach it to you before your visit here. Please, please be careful out there, and go home with the best memories ever.


  1. Thank you Katherine for this great post. It’s just heartbreaking to see someone injured when they’re supposed to be having a good time in the water. Like you, I’ve also been hurt and have had friends hurt. A good friend of mine lost her son several years ago, washed off the rocks while he was fishing. So yes, we all need to stay safe and respect the ocean.

  2. Tara. Oh my. What a tragedy for your friend. I never expected to witness one and hope I never do again. And I keep myself very mindful now when I am out and about. Thx for the comment

  3. people need to be very careful when they are close and in the ocean. So many tragedy happen this year. We want you to have fun but still safe.

  4. Great post, Katherine. It doesn’t help to be able to swim if you’re knocked unconscious. People underestimate the power of the waves and overestimate their ability to survive them.

  5. Thank you, Katherine for your hard work and dedication to our blog. I know this post will save lives. The ocean is a beautiful thing. We should enjoy its wonders with caution.

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