American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Hawaiian Islands, Oahu, Koolau Range

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Hawaian Islands, Oahu, Koolau Range—On the morning of September 5, 1960 (Labor Day) the Reverend Irwin Jackson (30+) pastor of the Kaimuki Christian Church in Honolulu, led a picnic-hiking group of one adult and 12 teenagers into Manoa Valley in back of the University of Hawaii. After hiking to the head of the valley (about 1000 feet elevation) Jackson and two boys (16) climbed to the top of 100 feet Manoa Falls in Waihi ravine while the rest of the group waited at the foot of the falls. Against Jackson’s wishes the two teenagers descended the steep side of the falls, reaching the bottom at 11:30 a.m. One boy fell and was injured. (Severity of injuries unknown.)

Jackson did not descend. He climbed alone up the steep ravine to the top of the ridge of the Koolau range (about 2500 feet elevation). Jackson’s progress was slow because of heavy rain, clay, mud, lichen and rotten rock, and he was forced to bivouac in the open in the clothes he was wearing. The next morning, September 6, he continued along the crest of the Koolau ridge and at 12:30 p.m. he descended to the highway at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout (elevation 1200 feet) in reasonably good condition.

On the afternoon of September 5 rescue teams were alerted. Marine and Air Force helicopters flew to the area, but high winds, rain and steepness of terrain prevented their utilization then and on following days. A five-man rescue team of firemen, using ropes, scaled cliffs in the waterfall area, and returned the same afternoon.

At 8:30 a.m. on September 6, another five-man team of firemen resumed the search. They drove to Mt. Tantalus (about 2,000 feet elevation) and on foot traversed a ridge to a point above Waihi ravine. Sometime while traversing the ridge they learned by radio that Jackson was safe. They decided to leave the mountains by descending Waihi ravine. During the descent at about 4:30 p.m., Fireman Philip T. Chang (48) fell 15 to 20 feet in the ravine. He became immediately unconscious and was breathing heavily. He did not revive despite the use of mouth- to-mouth artificial respiration. The firemen reported by radio that Chang had a head injury, a broken leg, and possibly internal injuries. He died at 7:10 p.m.

Nightfall was approaching, and because of inadequate ropes, the four firemen spent the night with Chang. They had no food nor shelter. There were heavy showers.

At 5:00 a.m. on September 7, an Army rescue squad and another squad of firemen started from Mt. Tantalus. At 1:05 p.m. they reached the stranded group. Late that evening the two teams reached the base of the falls carrying the body.

Source: Merrill F. McLane.

Analysis: Some of the factors causing these accidents:

Failure of the hiking group to appreciate the inherent dangers in the Koolau range: heavy rainfall, steep ravines, knife edges, lichen-covered rotton rock, soil of thick mud and clay.

Lack of proper equipment for other than a picnic hike.

Inexperience of hiking group.

Leaving an established trail.

Failure to comprehend that hiking groups must have a leader.

Failure to realize that a climbing group, once committed to dangerous terrain, does not split up.

The leader’s decision to solo-climb up the crest of the range and out to Nuuanu Pali Lookout. This involved an involuntary bivouac.

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