Monday, May 10, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
David Pahk hugs Michael Bianchi after both worked
to help victims at Sacred Falls State Park. Pahk placed
the first 911 call summoning emergency workers.

A roar like thunder, then screams of agony
In the aftermath: Rocks continue to fall,
making the area too hazardous to enter

Dead and injured: Six are dead and dozens
are hurt, but 'everybody's accounted for'

List of victims

By Lori Tighe
and Rod Ohira



Hotlines have been set up for relatives of those who may have been caught in the Sacred Falls landslide.
Mainland U.S. and neighbor island callers should use 1-800-898-2353.
Callers on Oahu should use 523-4122.

With rocks and debris still tumbling from steep ledges today, Fire Department officials called off the search for more victims of a deadly landslide at Sacred Falls.

Six people were killed and dozens injured in the Mother's Day tragedy at the popular hiking spot in Hauula, but firefighters said today that nobody was reported missing.

"I'm pretty comfortable that everybody's accounted for," said Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi. "But we're leaving our options open, in case there are any reports of people missing."

"It's unsafe for rescue people or anyone else to go up there," he said. The governor has ordered the state park closed until further notice.

One of the six killed yesterday was identified by the Air Force as Master Sgt. Scott T. Huling, who was the first sergeant of the 15th Air Base Wing Security Force at Hickam Air Force Base.

A Hickam spokeswoman said the only other information she could release was that Huling had been in the Air Force for 16-1/2 years.

Huling was with other members of his family on a Mother's Day outing. It was not immediately known if other members of his family were injured.

How it happened


Graphic by Bryant Fukutomi, Star-Bulletin
Debris from an area the size of a football field slides down the left
slope at about 2:30 p.m., dropping 500 feet to the valley floor.
“Hundreds of rocks came down, and it had a ping-pong effect,
bouncing off the wall,” said Kenneth Silva, fire department
battalion chief.

Another victim was the 9-year-old daughter of an Air Force staff sergeant assigned to the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron at Wheeler Army Air Field, military officials said.

A representative from the medical examiner's office said this morning that the office was having trouble identifying some victims because they were wearing bathing suits and not carrying identification.

Witnesses who were at the falls yesterday said that at 2:30 p.m., they heard what sounded like thunder, then a roar like a freight train, then screams and cries of agony.

Then people began to emerge from beneath the landslide. Some had missing arms, missing legs, holes through their bodies, exposed abdominal cavities. One person had half a face. Others were flattened under boulders the size of cars, according to rescuers.

Hundreds of rocks fell

"Nature just let go," Leonardi said yesterday, shaking his head. One of the rescuers, firefighter Brian Carvalho, said, "It looked like a war scene."

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Families wait for loved ones who went back into
the park to help victims after hearing of the landslide.

Geologists surveying the scene this morning said part of the left side of the mountain, as you face the waterfall, collapsed onto the rocky area in front of the falls. Earlier, witnesses and geologists had said the rocks fell from the right side of the mountain. Both sides, geologists said, show signs of damage.

"Hundreds of rocks came down, and it had a ping-pong effect, bouncing off the wall," Fire Department Battalion Chief Kenneth Silva said today.

Dry conditions may have hurt

Geologist Glenn Bauer of the Department of Land and Natural Resources said dry conditions may have separated the clay from the mountainside, loosening the rock front.

DLNR Director Tim Johns said Bauer told him that rock slides are common.

"He said you have rock slides probably 12 times a year along the Koolau Range," Johns said.

"It's pretty common, but normally there aren't people sitting underneath it."

Firefighters, paramedics and civilian volunteers risked their own lives pulling bodies out of the rubble and giving people first aid beneath the shadow of the landslide's sheared cliff.

"It's the worst I've ever seen," said Dr. Geoff Scott, a head and neck surgeon on vacation from Anaheim, Calif. "I'll never come back."

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Members of Greater Mount Zion Holiness Church
just up the road from Sacred Falls came to the staging
area to give support and pray for victims.

He had hiked almost all the way to the falls with his two children and wife when he heard the "enormous roar." Scott said he initially thought it was a flash flood, when rainwater on a mountaintop builds up and gushes down in a powerful surge.

Scott sent his family out of the park while he and about two dozen other civilian rescuers headed toward the disaster to help.

"The first thing we did was get people out of the fall zone. We triaged who was the sickest and tried to support them until the paramedics came," Scott said.

His 5-year-old son came up to him when it was all over and asked, "Daddy, Daddy, where's your shirt?"

Scott answered, "Someone needed it more than I did."

'She didn't make it'

By the time rescuers pulled the last two dead people from the impact zone around 6:30 p.m., firefighter Carvalho said he could hear rocks falling.

"One of the most unfortunate is a little girl that hit my heart," he said. "She was still alive. Firefighters were working on her but she didn't make it."

Most of the critically and seriously injured victims were airlifted to Kahuku or Queen's hospitals. Others were transported on an Oahu Transit Services bus and by ambulance.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Gov. Ben Cayetano was aboard a Fire Department
helicopter at the site

David Pahk, 37, was working at an informational booth at the park entrance when a man came running from the trail and told him about the landslide.

Pahk drove his truck as far as it could go up the 2.2-mile trail, and then ran the rest of the way to the disaster scene to help.

"There were bodies everywhere. I carried bodies live and dead, with head injuries, arms and legs broken, open skulls. Everyone was helping out," Pahk said.

Firefighters arrive

Firefighters and paramedics arrived at the park within several minutes after Pahk called 911, and made it to the disaster scene within about 20 minutes.

Pahk said it was one of the busiest days at the park he had ever recalled, with visitors wishing to celebrate Mother's Day with mother nature.

Shanon Victor, 21, a sailor, had called his mother in Houston to wish her a happy Mother's Day and then decided to hike alone at Sacred Falls.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
A couple comes off the trail at Sacred Falls, he with
blood on his shorts.

He was about 100 yards in front of the falls when he heard the sound.

"It was very loud, a thunder and a roar. Next thing I heard was loud screaming and yelling," Victor said. "People were trying to pull themselves up. I ran toward the sounds."

His first instinct was to help people, he said, and his military training kicked in.

He saw people with missing limbs and torn bodies.

All of the civilian rescuers kept the morale up, he said.

"Not a single person helping gave up," said Shanon Victor, a sailor. "It was just beautiful." Then he acknowledged he was probably still in shock.

"It will take some time for me to sort this all out."

'It was pretty crazy'

A Makakilo teen, Julian DeGrandis, and four friends carried one man on a stretcher down the trail to help.

"We had a hard time getting out. He had a gash in his head, and we were keeping him conscious," DeGrandis said. "There was a lot of screaming and yelling. It was pretty crazy."

Tracy Murphy and his wife, Noni, say their new puppy from the Humane Society, named Stonewall Jackson, probably saved their lives.

As they walked Stonewall up the trail, the puppy poked around and took his time. The couple never reached the falls. They came within an eighth of a mile when they heard the thunderous noise and then the screams.

"People came down the trail with lacerations, broken arms, broken legs," Murphy said. "People lay everywhere. They had holes in them them from flying sticks. Rocks were on top of them."

Murphy, a volunteer firefighter stationed with his wife at Wheeler Army Air Field, took his towels out and started putting tourniquets on victims.

A nun visiting from Palm Beach County broke her arm and wrist and was missing a finger, Murphy said. He said he decided to focus on her and carried her down the trail to safety.

"She had a foot and she had a leg, but I couldn't see her ankle. It wasn't there," he said.

Murphy's wife, Noni, said, "We don't think we'll ever come back."

Among the dead

As of Tuesday morning, the Honolulu medical examiner had identified the dead as:

Bullet Scott Huling, 36, stationed at Hickam Air Force Base.
Bullet Aaron Bann, 31, of Placentia, Calif.
Bullet Jen Johnson, 24, West Hills, Calif.
Bullet Danielle Williams, 7, of Honolulu.
Bullet Donna Forsch, 38, of Elk Grove, Calif.*
Bullet Teri Zerebeski, 42, of Sherwood Park, Alberta.*

(* = tentative ID by medical examiner)


The injured

No official list of injured survivors from Sunday's Sacred Falls disaster will be released, said Toby Clairmont, Oahu Civil Defense commissioner.

"We won't release the list," he said. This is to protect victims' privacy, Clairmont said.

The data is being used by the Red Cross to assist communication between victims and families, he said.

Bullet Queen's Medical Center had seven still hospitalized: a woman, 28, fair condition; boy, 9, guarded; boy, 2, fair; woman, 30, fair; girl, 9, fair; woman, 50, fair; man, 29, critical.
Bullet Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children had two: boys, 7 and 9, conditions not released.
Bullet Castle Medical Center had two: Whitney Phillips, 21, of Salt Lake City, stable; man, 27, stable.
Bullet Kuakini Medical Center had two: a man, 39, guarded; woman, 31, guarded.

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