ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Hawaii County Fire Department helicopter used a net dangling from a long line to remove diving equipment from the Wailuku River yesterday after an unsuccessful search for a woman missing in the river. The search was to resume today.
Search to continue for woman who disappeared in Hilo river
HILO » Hawaii County fire rescue personnel were to resume a search today for a 29-year-old woman missing since Sunday afternoon while playing in Hilo's Wailuku River.
The only sign of her was a single black shoe found yesterday, said incident commander Clarence Young.
The woman's name was not immediately released.
The accident took place just upriver from the Boiling Pots area of Wailuku River State Park.
The river had only a moderate flow yesterday but was swollen with runoff last week, Young said.
The woman was with a group of people who were shooting down a natural water slide area among the rounded rocks of the riverbed, Young said.
When the woman went down the slide, she popped up smiling, and a friend took her picture. Then she disappeared down the river toward the roughly 100-foot-high Peepee Falls.
Helicopter surveillance revealed that the woman was not in the small shallow pools above the falls, Young said.
Four ponds just below the falls vary from 8 to 40 feet deep, Young said. Fire Department scuba divers investigated the quieter waters but could not go into more turbulent areas, he said.
Other ponds downriver, which give rise to the name Boiling Pots, were even more turbulent yesterday.
A search helicopter was to fly the 3-mile route from Hilo Bay to Boiling Pots this morning.
Neither the Fire Department nor the state Parks Division keeps records of river fatalities, said Young and parks official Glenn Taguchi.
But all agreed that drownings occur in the river about once a year, despite warnings signs with the word "dangerous" written in red.
A nearby resident who declined to give his name said his yard backs onto the river. "When you hear the sound (of the helicopter) from the back yard, you know something has happened," he said. He hears it every 12 to 18 months, he said.
On New Year's Day, Puna Kamelamela, 20, of Hilo died when the wooden railing of Piihonua Bridge upriver from Boiling Pots broke while he was standing on it, dropping him onto rocks below.
Young remembered another case in the 1990s in which a young woman lost her footing in the river but was saved by a young man who pushed her onto some rocks. In the process he lost his own footing and was swept downriver to his death, Young said.