Illegal Hikers of Hazardous Hawaii Trail Could Have To Cover Their Rescue Costs

Illegal Hikers of Hazardous Hawaii Trail Could Have To Cover Their Rescue Costs

The Haiku Stairs (a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven) in O'ahu, Hawai'i. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/Majicphotos)

O’ahu residents have had enough of Instagrammers and others who ignore the rules and then require rescuing when they get themselves into a sticky situation.

In particular, we’re talking about a popular, but illegal, hike along Hawai’i’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ trail, also known as the ‘Haiku Stairs’. Now, a new bill is positing that people who break the law by undertaking the hazardous climb should have to pay for their own rescues.

Last week, the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) was called out to save an injured hiker who got stuck during his descent and had to be airlifted to somewhere he could receive medical care. It took five HFD units, 16 department personnel and rescue helicopters to get the 20-year-old and his two friends, who were also airlifted out because of inclement weather, back to safety.

The Haiku Stairs is a historic steel structure, originally built during WWII, consisting of 3,922 steep (now dilapidated) steps that wind up the mountain, leading to what was once a secret military radio facility, following the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Such emergency rescues are frequently called for, especially on this particular prohibited trail. Between 2010 and 2022, more than 188 hikers have required rescuing from the Stairs.

“When one of these hikers needs to be rescued, it is the State that bears the burden of paying for the costs associated with the search or rescue,” the proposal reads; or, more accurately, the taxpayers. And, since many of these folks are out-of-state tourists, none of it comes out of their personal pockets.

The Department of Parks and Recreation allocates $250,000 for special Hawaii Police Department units to deal with trespassers on the government-owned land. On top of that, every airlift that the HFD conducts costs the state up to $5,000, with the helicopter costing $2,500 per hour and rescues typically taking two hours.

The bill, SB786, would enable the government to “seek reimbursement for search or rescue expenses” in such instances. Senator Brenton Awa, who represents the Kaneohe region where the trail is located, told USA Today that the proposed legislation has passed its initial reading and has crossed over to the House.

Illegal Hikers of Hazardous Hawaii Trail Could Have To Cover Their Rescue Costs

A rescue helicopter arriving at the scene. (photo via Waynerd/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

“People don’t think, they see the social media and it’s beautiful,” Awa said, “It’s like, ‘hey that looks fun’. He commented, “When you go into the wilderness, there’s responsibility that comes with it,” adding, “I would never go into another state and expect to be saved by anybody.”

Despite having been closed to the public since 1987, and the potential consequences of getting caught (including a fine of up to $1,000, arrest and a month’s imprisonment) plenty of people are apparently willing to risk it to see the jaw-dropping view from the top firsthand. atop the Ko’olau mountain range.

The spectacular vista from 2,800 feet up has made the Haiku Stairs popular among the social media set, with #haikustairs linked to more than 61,400 Instagram posts. According to KHON news, thousands of trespassers each year disregard the law, ignore posted warning signs and tramp through residential properties at all hours (often at night, so they can catch the sunrise) to reach the trailhead.

“The community under the stairs right on the bottom, they’re just sick and tired of trespassing, so there’s no mercy when it comes to those residents,” Awa explained. “You can imagine when you see a helicopter now coming,” he added. “This person came through my yard and trespassed, I don’t like that, and now I’m paying for their rescue helicopter.”

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