Officers search jungle for hours at night to rescue woman lost after hiding from feral pigs
September 29, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated October 1, 11:10 AM
Surrounded by grass taller than them — some of it razor sharp, nicking at their skin and so thick that even a police baton couldn’t part it — two officers with the Hawai‘i Police Department’s Puna Patrol followed a faint cry for help in July.
It was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, or dense jungle in this case. But officers Kyle Murray and Devin Ah Chong, drenched from a heavy rain, kept searching in the dark of night for the origin of the voice coming from a 6-acre area between Road 8 and Road 9 off Road F in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision on the Big Island.
They were responding to a second call that came into police dispatch at 2:15 a.m. about a woman in the bushes yelling for help.
A few hours earlier, at about 9:30 or 10 p.m. July 13, the police received the first call about a person in distress in that area. Ah Chong and several other officers responded. They searched for about an hour or so, but with the rain pounding, coquis chirping loudly and other night noises, including several of the area’s residents also yelling for the person in an attempt to help, it was hard to hear much. They couldn’t find anyone and the search was eventually called off.
When the second call came in, only Murray, who was not on duty for the first search, and Ah Chong, who had participated in the first search and was still on duty, responded. They went to Hawaiian Acres and turned off their vehicles, quietly listening. After some time, Murray heard a faint “Help, help!” in the distance.
Their search began as rain started pouring again.
As the minutes turned to hours, Murray and Ah Chong pushed on, announcing themselves and telling the voice yelling back from the dark that help was on the way. Their legs were weak. They were covered in mud and new scratches. Fire ants were feasting on them. And their flashlightsʻ batteries were dying.
But they knew it was up to them to find the person in distress. So they trudged on, falling into brush just to push it down to clear a path.
About three hours after the search began, Ah Chong discovered a 43-year-old woman covered by trees in a ditch about 4 feet deep.
“She looked up and she started crying,” Ah Chong said.
He said if it hadn’t been for the colorful clothing she was wearing that stood out in the jungle, he might not have seen her.
After moving some of the trees and branches around her, Ah Chong grabbed her hand, letting her know she was safe.
“I remember she couldn’t really even walk,” Ah Chong said. “She was just so exhausted, dehydrated, probably in shock from being out there for at least 12 maybe more hours than that.”
Ah Chong stayed with the woman while Murray navigated back through the dense vegetation to get more help. He met with a resident of the area who provided a hand-held chainsaw to clear a trail back to Ah Chong and the woman.
The two officers helped extricate the woman from the jungle, eventually meeting medics with the Hawai’i Fire Department who evaluated the woman, who sustained only minor scrapes and bruises. She declined further treatment but did consent to an ambulance ride to her home about 2 miles away.
The woman told the officers the reason she got lost in the middle of the jungle. She was trying to avoid a small group of very large feral pigs.
She encountered the critters the previous day at about noon while walking home from the bus stop. Fearing what the pigs would do to her if she walked by them, she went into the bushes to hide until the pigs left.
Unfortunately, the area she entered has somewhat of a small incline and she slipped, dropping her bags and everything inside. She became disoriented while looking for her bags and the items that had fallen out. Instead of walking back toward the road, she was walking farther into the dense vegetation.
During the first search, an officer thought he heard someone calling for help. The woman told Ah Chong later that she could see flashlights at that time and hear people calling out so she responded.
But the woman said she got excited and tried to pull herself up through the bushes, grabbing a tree branch. The branch broke, causing her to fall and be knocked unconscious.
The second call to dispatch came in after the woman regained consciousness and again began yelling for help.
The Hawaiʻi Police Department declined to give the name of the woman rescued, citing her privacy.
Ah Chong, a five-year veteran with the department, and Murray, who has been with the agency for three years, both have responded to search-and-rescue calls. But none have been as intense and demanding — or as rewarding — as the one in July.
“I was just elated to see her alive,” Murray said.
“Her safety was the main thing and her welfare,” Ah Chong said. “So we were glad she was okay. When she got checked out by the medics and they said she was okay, it was like a huge weight off our shoulders.”
The two will be honored as the Aloha Exchange Club of East Hawai’i’s August Officers of the Month during a club meeting Oct. 27 at the Hilo Yacht Club. While they appreciate the honor, the officers said they need no accolades and were just doing their jobs.
Ah Chong said: “I’m sure any other officer in our position would have done the exact same thing.”