Weary boat crew is saved off Hilo
As 15-foot-high waves thick with diesel fuel washed over them, crew members of the Seven Stars huddled on the radio tower of their stricken commercial fishing vessel.
They awaited rescue in the dark, not knowing the fate of a fellow sailor who jumped into the waves hoping to get to shore, or whether the emergency beacon they sent out to the Coast Guard had been received.
About 5:40 a.m. yesterday, an hour after the Coast Guard got the ship's beacon, Hawaii County Fire Department helicopter pilot Paul Darryl spotted the 69-foot ship grounded on shore near Onomea at the base of a 50-foot cliff, about seven miles north of Hilo.
In a moment, he took it all in: There were five men sitting on the ship's highest point, holding on to each other against the brutal waves; barrels and fishing supplies were strewn in the water; and a lone crewman was bobbing in the surf among the debris.
"It looked like something you only see in the movies," Darryl said.
Within minutes, fire rescue specialist Garrett Kim had jumped from the helicopter into the oil-laden water to get to the crew member in the surf. The man, Kim said, was floating right in the middle of the diesel slick.
Debris, including wood planks, washed around them.
Kim quickly hoisted the victim into a rescue net, and they were dropped off on shore. Then Kim had to rescue those stranded on the ship.
"When I was flying in to take on the first pair of victims, I could see the entire boat was getting covered by the waves," said Kim, the son of Big Island Mayor Harry Kim. "I was surprised they were able to stay on the boat."
As surf pummeled Kim on the ship's deck, he made his way to the men, taking them by twos in the helicopter's basket to shore. All the while, he was wrestling with the net to keep it free from the ship's antennas and poles.
More than once, Kim was pushed into railings and other equipment, leaving him bruised and weary. "He was being hammered by waves," Darryl said. "He did an excellent job. It was way above and beyond."
The rescue took about 30 minutes. The vessel's crew members sustained minor injuries. They were all taken to the Hilo Medical Center.
"It was hairy," said Kim, who has been a rescue swimmer for two years. He said yesterday's rescue was one of the most difficult he has been through, "but it's what we train for."
Waiakea Fire Station acting Capt. Miles Kawazoe, who also helped yesterday, said there was a "risk in this rescue."
"The water was really rough," he said. "It was dark, so that was a big element."
The fishing boat's crew members told Kawazoe that the boat's engine had failed about a mile offshore, then lost power after a large wave hit it.
A half-mile-wide oil sheen from the boat extended a mile out from shore, he said. But a Coast Guard spokesman said there did not appear to be a significant spill.
The Coast Guard was monitoring the removal of 700 gallons of diesel fuel from the vessel yesterday. It is unclear what shape the Seven Stars is in, but Coast Guard officials did not think it would start breaking up in the surf. They planned an investigation into how the vessel ran aground.
Kawazoe said all the fishermen were wearing life vests, which helped rescue crews spot them in the dark.