Flash flood strands
Maui hikers overnight

Fire crews rescued 24 people
before giving up on a cave search

WAILUKU >> Three California men were trapped for about nine hours in a flooded lava-tube cave Monday as fire crews looked for them and rescued 24 other stranded hikers in East Maui.

No one was seriously injured.

Maui resident Nicole Cunico, whose friend's husband was trapped in the cave, said yesterday she felt fire rescue officials should have focused on the three men in the cave first and that the hikers were in a relatively safe area.

But Deputy Fire Chief Neal Bal said rescuers had no indication the men were still in the cave and thought they might have already been swept downstream.

Bal said it would have been dangerous to send his men in because of the strong stream current.

The 24 hikers had passed over Nailiilihaele Stream in Kailua in an area about a quarter-mile mauka of Hana Highway but were unable to return because of flooding.

Cunico said five men, including her friend's husband, went hiking in the cave when a flash flood occurred.

She said two of the men managed to swim underwater and pull themselves through a grating to safety but the other three men remained trapped in the cave.

When fire officials responded to a call to rescue the three men at 4:08 p.m. Monday, they also found dozens of the stranded hikers.

Fire crews were unable to find the three men in the area outside the cave and heard no cries of help from within the cave, fire officials said.

With only a few hours of daylight left, fire rescue crews in a helicopter focused on retrieving the stranded hikers, including two children, and transferring them in a basket two at a time to a landing zone near the highway, officials said.

Cunico, who drove from Paia to assist her friend in the search, said fire officials left about 10 p.m. after calling off the search until morning and told her friend that the rescue of the three men did not look good.

Cunico said she and other friends went to a store in Kahului to get flashlights and glow sticks to look for the men themselves.

She said when they returned to the cave, they tossed glow sticks in the water running into the cave.

"They started to hear them (three men) yell," she said.

The three men got out of the cave after the water subsided early yesterday.

Maui resident Michael Gingerich, one of the two men who got out of the cave before it flooded, said he and other friends used ropes to help the three men up a 50-foot ravine.

He said he was glad that everyone survived and doesn't plan to hike into the cave again.

"The biggest lesson we learned was the weather is very volatile out there," Gingerich said.


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