Monday, May 10, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
"There were bodies everywhere" after the landslide
at Sacred Falls State Park, said David Pahk.


'You don't think you'd
even dream' of such a
horrific, chaotic scene

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


David Pahk was among a group of 15 people performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on an unconscious young girl as they carried her down the hiking trail on a gurney. She later was pronounced dead.

Nathan McCotter held a man's head together to stop the bleeding. McCotter isn't sure he'll ever know what happened to the man.

The horrific and chaotic scene the two volunteers from the Sacred Falls Assistance Program experienced yesterday is one they won't forget.

The two were operating the information and care stand at the base of the hike, about 2.2 miles from the falls.

"I greeted every single person up there," Pahk said. "I asked them where their mothers were, what they got them for Mother's Day."

At around 2:30 p.m., Pahk said, a man came running down from the trail telling him about the landslide.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Sailor Jason Long, left, and Marine Jason Hill
warm up after helping victims of the landslide.

Pahk, 37, used a cellular phone to call 911, and within an hour both he and McCotter were in the thick of the most unforgettable scene of their lives.

"It was just like 'M*A*S*H,'" Pahk said.

The boulders that came from above the falls and onto the hikers "were the size of cars," Pahk said.

"It was actually almost like something you never would think you would ever see in your whole life, even something you don't think you would even dream," McCotter said. "Almost worse than the worst nightmare you could have."

For Pahk, the most incredible experience -- both tragic and uplifting at the same time -- involved a young girl from the mainland, about 9 or 10 years old.

"When I walked by her, at first she was screaming, sitting on the ground. She seemed fine," he said. "Five minutes later, they were saying she lost pulse."

Because CPR was being performed on her, medical personnel chose not to airlift her. Instead, about 15 police and firefighters, as well as civilians, carried her down while continuing to perform CPR.

The effort continued as the party made itself down the narrow trail for two to three hours, Pahk said.

"This girl died in our hands," Pahk said. "Nobody gave up until we were all the way down. I was praying to Jesus the whole time."

At the trail's entrance, certified officials pronounced her dead, most likely from internal injuries, he said.

He praised fire, police, state Land Department and other rescue personnel.

"They did everything right; they did their job to perfection."

Pahk described the scene as "a beautiful thing to see all these people work in such harmony."

McCotter, 25, said there was no hesitation in his mind about running up the trail to help.

"Civilian people needed to help out," McCotter said. "The park is not set up for any disaster like this."

For a good part of his time at the falls, McCotter was tasked with holding the head of an unconscious man.

"The guy's head was completely split open, and I just had a little tiny strip of gauze bandage," he said. The man wasn't conscious. "He was breathing, though. That was the most unbelievable thing."

After a while, he said, he asked a firefighter, "'Should I try to push his head together a little bit more and try to wrap it up?' and the guy said: 'No need. Don't mess with it; just leave it. Just hold it until it stops bleeding.'"

McCotter said he doesn't know what happened to the man, who was airlifted out of the area.

He said there was an attractive woman, about 18. "Her face was perfect. And then I looked, I could see further down ... part of her waist ... from there on ... it was just all spaghetti."

McCotter said she was dead.

Pahk said there were more people on the trail than he's seen in the month he's been working there.

"We have never, ever seen it not even a third that crowded," he said. "It was like Disneyland. People were leaving the trail, saying it was too crowded."

Both Pahk and McCotter said they are devout Christians.

"There was prayer being done all up and down the trail," Pahk said. The two attended a prayer service for the victims at New Hope Christian Church only hours after the tragedy.

As McCotter was dropped off at his Kaimuki home around midnight, he was still holding the small, blue Shaquille O'Neal jersey that belonged to the little girl that Pahk and others tried to save. The shirt was among a number of items that had been strewn amid the panic.

McCotter said he wasn't sure what he would do with it.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Russell and Whitney Phillips at Castle Medical Center today.

couple glad to
have survived

Russell and Whitney Phillips are
hurt but say they'll return to Hawaii

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Russell and Whitney Phillips were engaged on Kauai in September and decided that they should celebrate their honeymoon in the islands with a weeklong vacation.

But the Salt Lake City couple never thought their honeymoon would turn into such a nightmare.

They were married last Monday in Utah and arrived here a day later to celebrate their nuptials.

Today, Russell, 23, is recuperating at Castle Medical Center with cuts and bruises caused by a landslide at Sacred Falls yesterday.

His wife, Whitney, 21, has a cast encompassing her right foot from her toes to her knee following surgery on a severely cut Achilles' tendon.

"It was the scariest moment in my life," Russell Phillips said.

"I just can't believe it happened. You never believe it can happen to you. They said Sacred Falls is a state park, and so I thought it was safe."

The couple spent part of the morning walking the 1.2 miles from the trail head to the falls.

They had just finished swimming in the pool and were sitting on rocks to dry off.

"That's when the boulders started falling."

Phillips said he raised his left arm to try to protect himself from the falling rocks and debris. "That's when I thought I broke my arm."

He said his wife is still "pretty shook up" but glad that she is alive.

This is Russell Phillips' third visit to the islands and his wife's fourth.

"We'll come back," he said, "and we'll continue to come back. But I don't think we will ever go back to Sacred Falls."

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