Incidents of Disaster and Survival

in the Hawaiian Islands


The remote location of the Hawaiian Islands, the diversity of geographical features, and the often unpredictable weather create many dangerous situations.

In this book there are stories of bravery and incredible courage, and remarkable tales of survival despite great odds. Many of the events involve great tragedy, loss of life, and profound heartbreak for families and loved ones.

For adventurous persons active in the Hawaiian Islands today, these accounts will serve as a reminder to avoid perilous situations. Many stories of survival are inspiring, revealing the importance of inner strength and fortitude.

Names are not mentioned in respect of those who have perished, yet this book is a tribute to all the unfortunate souls mentioned here, as well as those who survived.


The Hawaiian Islands are a place of spectacular beauty, but sometimes that beauty comes at a price. Many natural forces are at work in the Islands—earthquakes wrack and topple buildings, volcanic eruptions and landslides bury homes, tsunamis wash away whole villages and hurricanes devastate whole islands.

The plenteous rain in the Hawaiian Islands keeps the islands green and the waterfalls flowing, yet the rains make rivers rise rapidly and bring floods that sweep many to their deaths. Steep and treacherous terrain claims the lives of hikers, hunters, and other mountain adventurers.

The ocean surrounding the Hawaiian Islands is a source of great enjoyment for fishermen, and beachgoers, yet it cuts short hundreds of lives, and many people have vanished without a trace.

Big waves and strong currents make ocean rescues commonplace, but the lifeguards can’t be everywhere—in recent decades many hundreds of visitors and residents have drowned, including 71 in 2004.

Sharks are another worry for swimmers, surfers, bodyboarders, snorkelers, and scuba divers. More than 120 documented shark attacks on humans have occurred in Hawaiian waters. Other ocean creatures—eels, marlins, barracudas, and monk seals, to name a few—have also bitten people

Many brave Hawaiian souls have perished in the midst of heroism. Eddie Aikau paddled his surfboard toward Lāna‘i from the overturned Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe to seek help for his stranded crewmates—the crew was rescued but Eddie Aikau was never seen again.

This text recounts that story and many other stories of disaster and survival in the Hawaiian Islands.


Eruption Kills Warriors

In 1790 on Hawai‘i Island, the chief Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula [Keōua] and his warriors headed for Ka‘ū after plundering the Waipi‘o, Kohala, and Waimea lands of the rising warrior Kamehameha. As they passed over an area near Kīlauea Volcano, a chance eruption at the volcanically active area now known as Halema‘uma‘u Fire Pit spewed ash and poisonous gasses over many of Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula’s group.

The volcanic explosion of Halema‘uma‘u rained down hot cinders along with a thick shroud of acidic smoke that burned and suffocated many of Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula’s people, killing warriors as well as women and children.

The Battle of Nu‘uanu

In April of 1795, the rising warrior Kamehameha set sail from Moloka‘i to invade O‘ahu. Kamehameha had about 960 canoes as well as 20 armed foreign ships, cannons, and an estimated 16,000 soldiers.

Allied against Kamehameha were the forces of O‘ahu’s chief Kalanikūpule, an estimated 9,000 warriors, along with more warriors led by the chief Ka‘iana‘ahu‘ula [Keawe-Ka‘iana a ‘Ahu‘ula; Ka‘iana], who had deserted Kamehameha.

Kamehameha’s troops landed on O‘ahu’s southern shores from Waikīkī to Wai’alae and marched to Nu‘uanu where they overpowered the O‘ahu forces. Many of the fleeing warriors climbed the sides of Nu‘uanu Valley, while others retreated up to the head of the valley and were confronted by Kamehameha’s soldiers at the precipitous edge of the pali (cliff).

Many O‘ahu warriors were either driven over the edge of the cliff or jumped, meeting their death on the rocks hundreds of feet below.

[Note: Historical accounts of the events that occurred at Nu‘uanu Pali vary considerably, and it is possible that some warriors jumped off the precipice rather than surrender. The number of soldiers that died at the head of Nu‘uanu Pali is also uncertain, with estimates varying from 300 to more than 2,000.]

Overall, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 warriors (from both sides) died in the Battle of Nu‘uanu, making the confrontation the deadliest event ever in the Hawaiian Islands, including Pearl Harbor. The defeated chief Kalanikūpule was eventually captured, killed, and presented to Kamehameha who offered the body as a sacrifice to his war god Kūkā‘ilimoku.

The Battle of Nu‘uana was Kamehameha’s final major military conquest, giving him control of all of the Hawaiian Islands except Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, which were ceded to him in 1810.