DAY 6: Volunteers Needed in Search for Kyle Brittain

September 5, 2019, 1:22 PM HST (Updated September 11, 2019, 10:01 AM)
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Kyle Brittain. Courtesy photo

Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, marks day six of the search for Kyle Brittain, who was last seen in the Waipio Valley Lookout parking lot on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. He left his car there to begin his hike into Waipio Valley on the Big Island’s northern tip. The told his parents he was headed to the Z trail, which he had not hiked before.

Since being reported missing, Hawai‘i County’s search-and-rescue team has been out looking for him. But after five days, as of yesterday, Sept. 4, the official search and rescue has been called off, as is standard procedure in a missing persons case.

Kyle’s father, Steve Brittain, a long-time Hawai‘i County resident, is asking for volunteers to help bring Kyle home.

A friend gave him contact information for Chris Berquist, the team leader who was in charge of two search-and-rescue operations on Maui—for Amanda Eller and Noah Mina.

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The team found Eller, who had strayed from a trail in Makawao Forest Reserve, after 16 days of searching. Mina’s body was found after nine days. Both were discovered through the use of helicopters.

Chris Berquist addresses the community volunteers on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, before they head out to continue searching for Kyle Brittain, 27, who’s been missing since Friday. PC: Darde Gamayo

Berquist, who now works as part of the Search Tech Advisory Team (STAT), joined the search upon Brittain’s request on Sept. 3, working with Hawai‘i County. Now, a community-based search effort has started and volunteers are needed.

Both Berquist and Brittain say they are in dire need of 100 or more volunteers who are experienced hikers and in good physical shape. Volunteers must be able to put in six to 10 hours of hard hiking.

Volunteers are needed to help comb the area on foot and experienced rappellers are essential for searching ravines and cliffs.

Waipi‘o Valley. PC: Ethan Tweedie

“We could certainly use more folks, but the terrain is tough and the days are long,” said Berquist, who added that the terrain is making the search much more challenging than the Maui searches. “We are looking for rappellers and strong off-trail hikers.”

The Hawai‘i County Fire Department used helicopter during its five-day search but came up empty.

Berquist is hoping they have better luck using a private helicopter that is dropping search teams into the rough area that includes thick jungle and forest, cliffs, ravines, lava tubes and lava crevices, with a stream on the plateau above.

“It would take two to six hours just to get into search zone on foot, so the use of helicopters is a real advantage,” said Berquist.

Volcano Helicopters has offered its services at a greatly reduced rate… just enough to cover the cost of fuel. Paradise Helicopters is offering its services at no charge.

The team has also been using drones for ravines and sea cliffs quite a bit. More certified drone operators who are able to put in “a good day of hiking” are also needed.

Waipio Valley. PC: James Grenz

Berquist said an FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) camera operator is coming over in the few days to aid in the helicopter search.

A K-9 team from Kaua‘i Search and Rescue is also expected to join the search this weekend.

Maui STAT team members Javier Cantellops, Elena Pray and a few others who participated with Berquist in both Maui searches this year will also join the team this weekend.

Volunteers are asked to wear bright clothing. They should bring their own food, water and fully charged cell phone. Cell phone reception is poor in the area, so the addition of a handheld GPS device is recommended.

Waipio Valley Lookout. PC: daveynin

Volunteers can meet at the Waipio Lookout at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., and noon daily, where a central operations tent has been set up.

Children are asked to stay home for safety reasons. Dogs are not allowed in the area so as not to interfere with K-9 operations.

Berquist says the search will continue “as long as the family wants to,” adding that the area is very survivable. “Water, guava and oranges are plentiful,” he said. “So if he’s just turned around in there…”

“I don’t wish this on anybody,” said Kyle’s father. “Any help you can give is a lot… thank you so much.”

If you have information about Kyle or want to volunteer, call Berquist at (757) 650-7347 or email him at [email protected].

VIDEO: Steve Brittain calls for volunteers, Sept. 4, 2019. VC: Darde Gamayo

Debra Lordan
Debra Lordan has been a writer and website editor for Pacific Media Group since 2014. She has 39-plus years of experience in the publishing industry, serving in a variety of positions—from photographer, graphic designer and communications director to writer, editor and general manager—at scientific research centers, in book publishing, at a weekly newspaper and various magazines. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
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