Monday, August 23, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Anitta Winther, right, is carted away for a shower as
friends and family gather around Marianne Konnerup
at Kahuku Hospital yesterday following their rescue
from an eight-day ordeal atop a mountain peak at
the back of Kahana Valley.

‘It’s unreal how
they survived’

Danish hikers' wrong turn
put them on one of the
island's toughest trails

By Jaymes K. Song


Eating wild berries, sucking the water from moss and keeping each other company is how two young Danish women survived after being trapped in the Koolau Mountains for eight days.

"They were gone for so long it's unreal how they survived," said Thomas Yoza, one of the three expert hikers who located the missing women on a peak 2,265 feet above sea level. "I was kinda happy they were still alive. After a week, we were looking for a dead body."

Marianne Konnerup and Anitta Winther, both 20, were found yesterday at 2:15 p.m. by the hikers at Puuohulehule, a steep peak nestled deep in the Koolaus above Kahana Valley.

They were in good condition, with no major injuries.

They were airlifted to the entrance of Kahana Valley State Park, where they were reunited with their parents and friends as firefighters, state land agents and police, who had been searching for them since Tuesday, cheered and applauded.


An elated Per Konnerup, Marianne's father, said that seeing his daughter was one of the greatest joys of his life.

He said hugging her yesterday was "much, much better" than when he first hugged her at birth.

"Oh, we are so happy," he said.

Steffan Lausten said seeing his girlfriend Marianne's face brought tears of joy to his eyes.

"I was very, very happy," said Lausten. "She looked happy, too, when she walked out of the helicopter."

The rescuers, who had almost given up hope of finding the women alive, were also emotional.

"I truly can say, every search worker was truly touched," said Honolulu Fire Capt. Richard Soo. "I almost broke down."

Missing Persons Detective Phillip Camero, who headed the search and investigation, said all the exhausted rescuers will remember the joyful reunion for a long, long time.

"Seeing the girls come off the helicopter, rush to the family and embrace made it all worth it.

"Everyone involved in the rescue efforts was tired but elated," Camero said.

Soo said rescuers were within an hour of calling off the search for the day when Konnerup and Winther were found.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Before the hikers were found, their families and friends
listened yesterday to Fire Captain Richard Soo explain
the terrain of Kahana Valley. They are, from left,
Konnerup's boyfriend, Steffen Lausten, father
Kaj Winther, father Per Konnerup, mother Minna
Winther and translator Thorstsen Sander Nielsen.
Kirsten Melcher. the women's Hawaii host,
stands in front wearing a hat.

Camero said he was amazed that the women had been found and that they were in good condition.

"I always had hope, but every day hope dwindles a little," he said. "But we remained optimistic."

The women were taken to Kahuku Hospital, where they were treated for dehydration and fed a tuna sandwich, chips, M&Ms and water. They were released last night after about three hours in the hospital.

"Their condition is excellent considering what they've been through," said Dr. Richard Price. "They suffered some dehydration and malnutrition, as you may expect. But that is mild. Some sunburn and scratches, too."

The women and their hosts planned a press conference today after a night of rest and private time with family at the Hawaii Kai home of Richard and Kirsten Melcher, where Konnerup and Winther had been staying until their ill-fated hiking trip to Kahana Valley on Aug. 14.

"We just wanted to take a small hike, just one day," Winther said, shaking uncontrollably in her hospital bed. "We wanted to come back the same day. But it was too long. It (the trail) was supposed to go around."

They took a wrong turn

Instead of the "family trail" they thought they were on, the women took a wrong turn and ended up on one of the most challenging trails on the island.

The steep hike includes climbing up a steep cliff with cables.

Once they reached the summit, Konnerup and Winther realized it would be too dangerous to go back down.

"We couldn't get down, up, or anything," Winther said.

So they decided to stay the night and wait for help.

By last Monday, Winther said, they had eaten all their food -- two bagels and two apples.

Their bottled water ran out on Wednesday.

The women said they sucked on moss for water and ate wild berries for the rest of the week.

The most frustrating part of the experience, they said, was that they saw rescue helicopters and heard the rescue personnel and dogs searching for them in the valley below.

They called out for help and used the flash from their camera, but they could not get the attention of rescuers.

They said they relied on each other to stay alive.

"They said to each other, 'we want to live, we want to be found,' " said Per Konnerup.

Anitta Winther said that talking to each other really helped.

"Of course we got scared sometimes," she said.

"Marianne was scared of spiders and rats the first day, but she got over that," she added with a laugh.

As the search dragged on for an eighth day, officials and their parents were also starting to question whether the women could have survived for so long.

"It's just amazing," Capt. Soo said. "I was genuinely surprised they were alive."

Although the police investigators never confirmed they suspected any foul play in the women's disappearance, homicide detectives were recently brought into the investigation.

Parents taken to valley

Earlier in the day, the fire department took family members and friends who had flown in from Denmark on Friday up the Kahana Valley trail and showed them what could have happened to the women.

In contrast to the joyful reunion yesterday afternoon, the mood on the morning hike was solemn.

Anitta Winther's father, Kaj, paused several times along the trail, peering down cliffs at wild vegetation framing the path edges, sometimes veering from the group, and forging through the thick shrubbery, hoping to see something perhaps dozens of rescuers had not.

"This is so different from where we are from," said Per Konnerup of the steep muddy trail scattered with jutted rocks and boulders. "The soil and vegetation are different, the land is flat as pancakes (in Denmark)."

Later, at the hospital, Per Konnerup admitted he had been losing a little hope in ever finding his daughter alive.

"It was really tough," he said. "To lose one of your children is probably the worst thing that could happen in the world for you.

"You find out your other problems are peanuts. It puts your life in a new view."

He added that he won't take anything for granted anymore. And if his daughter wants to go hiking again or continue her travels, he won't have any problems.

"I cannot protect her and hold her hand for the rest of her life," he said.

Both families expressed their gratitude toward everyone in Hawaii and said they planned to do some sightseeing with their daughters for a few days, a vacation they had feared might never happen.

"We will see the island," Per Konnerup said. "And we'll see the island with different eyes than before."

Star-Bulletin writer Heather Tang contributed to this report.

Rescuers had an idea where to search

By Jaymes K. Song


Hikers Jim Pushow, Thomas Yoza, Ken Suzuki came to the rescue of two missing Danish women just as hope was fading that the women would ever be found alive.

"All we heard were voices saying "help, help,'" said the 47-year-old Suzuki.

The cries led them to finding Marianne Konnerup and Anitta Winther, both 20, who were on a 2,265-foot mountain ridge deep in the Koolau Mountains above Kahana, Kaaawa, Kualoa and Waikane valleys.

"We were happy to see them and they were very happy to see us," Suzuki said. "We just gave them water and food. They were very thirsty."

The women had been trapped on the Puuohulehule ridge peak for eight days. They climbed the trail after taking a wrong turn.

"They look all right, but weak," said Yoza, of Temple Valley. "They had some scratches, but they were in pretty good shape for a week out in the woods with basically nothing."

The men said they they were expecting to see two bodies, not two women.

"It's incredible," Suzuki said. "To survive that long, that's incredible. I don't think I would have survived. I definitely would not have survived. It's an awesome feat. They saved their own lives."

The three men are part of the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club, whose members go hiking together every Sunday.

They decided to help search in the area after their weekly maintenance of some trails in Kahana Valley.

"I had a hunch where they were," said Suzuki. "There are only two trails that they could get trouble on."

The trail is not well known and is considered more of a hunting trail, Yoza said.

"They're novice hikers and that's a hard hike," Yoza said. "We were surprised they were so high up."

The families did not have a chance to thank the hikers personally, but wanted to send their deepest gratitude.

"I want to thank them very, very much," said Per Konnerup, father of Marianne. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Police and Fire departments say they will soon honor the men for their rescue.

"It was great that the hikers found them," said Missing Persons Detective Phillip Camero.

"They deserve to be recognized."

The men, meanwhile, say they are in "no way" heroes and believe the women could have made it out by themselves.

"I'm just glad we were there to help out," Yoza said.

It’s big, happy
news in Danish media

Star-Bulletin staff


The plight of the two Danish women hikers led the evening news in Copenhagen today as it had for the last couple of days, the only serious competition being the earthquake in Turkey.

"We plan to put out two extra pages tomorrow," said Kgeld Chrestiansen, whose paper, Ekstra Bladet, has a daily circulation of more than 160,000.

"It's a really a big story," he added. "We've been running a story every day for the past week."

The two women are from villages 248 miles from Copenhagen near the North Sea. They had embarked on a world trip after graduation from business school.

Kim Laursen, following the story on line, sent an e-mail from Denmark: "I would like to thank the Hawaiian people for their effort in the finding of the two Danish hikers."

Search’s cost
estimated at more
than $100,000

By Rod Ohira


A six-day search operation ended yesterday with the rescue of two Danish visitors and that's all that counts, police and fire officials said.

Sources estimate the cost of the rescue at more than $100,000.

"There's no price on saving lives," Deputy Chief Michael Carvalho said when asked about the cost of the operation to police. "You do as much as you can for as long as you can."

"Information kept coming in that the ladies were sighted in the area, and we responded accordingly."

Police requested the assistance of the Fire Department and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Danish visitors Anitta Winther and Marianne Konnerup did not return home Aug. 14 and were reported missing last Monday.

The search operation began Tuesday in Waimea Valley.

"On the fire side, we were working normal shifts," Fire Department spokesman Capt. Richard Soo said of the operation.

When there is "concrete evidence" for a search operation, such as reported sightings of a missing party, the Fire Department will normally search for 72 hours from the time the incident is reported.

"After that, the incident commander will notify the chief, who will assess the situation," Soo said. "If there is a reason to continue, the chief will make the decision."

But the Kahana Valley search was a police operation, Soo noted.

Gary Moniz, DLNR's acting chief of law enforcement, said the state rotated shifts of 11-12 employees during the search period. Only one supervisor worked overtime, he said.

Moniz added that his office will evaluate the operation after a briefing today with other rescue agencies.

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