A group of tourists riding all-terrain vehicles in a remote, mountainous part of Hawaii's Big Island had to climb trees to keep from being swept over a 75-foot waterfall during a flash flood.
They were on a tour with Ride the Rim, a company that runs tours around the Waipio Valley, and the 14 guests and three guides set out around 1 p.m. on Monday, said Eileen Levin, an owner of Ride the Rim.
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When the group stopped to swim in a waterfall that's part the tour, three visitors dipped into the pool that sits between two waterfalls, including the 75-foot drop downstream of the swimming hole. That's when the waterfall feeding the pool started gushing, recalled visitor Jill Bolstridge, 33, of New York.
"We pulled ourselves out right in the nick of time, because four or five feet to the left, we would have had nothing to grab onto, and the water was so strong that we would have been taken over the edge," Bolstridge said.
The swimmers scrambled to safety on a platform near the water's edge, but a breakaway bridge they needed to get back to the rest of the tour group and the trail had been washed away to the side. The current was too strong to safely cross, so the swimmers and a handful of other tourists who had walked across the bridge were stranded.
"There was no way anyone could get into the water after this happened, because there was no margin of error," Levin said.
Tour guides called for help, but the weather conditions initially prevented a helicopter from getting to the site, Levin said.
The stranded group was waiting on a wooden platform overlooking the waterfalls. But as the water level continued to rise, they feared the platform could be swept away and over the falls, so they climbed nearby trees and waited for help.
Eventually, a rescue helicopter from the Hawaii County Fire Department lifted the tourists and guides to safety. No one was injured, according to the Fire Department.
Levin said her company didn't receive a warning about flash flooding until more than an hour after the incident occurred. The tourists were offered refunds and a second free trip with the company, she said.
All of the Hawaiian Islands are under a flash-flood watch through Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service.
"It was supposed to be a three-hour tour. Like 'Gilligans Island,' " Bolstridge said. "It was pretty dramatic, but it was an awesome experience."