Willie Jardine was heading home from a class reunion at Laupahoehoe Point when he heard the news: a 20-year-old man who’d been playing Airsoft in an Ookala Mauka forest was missing.
By the time he got to his Ookala home around 8 p.m. Feb. 10, police and fire rescue personnel were preparing to suspend the search for the night with plans to resume searching for Daysen Masuda at first light, Jardine said. Having grown up in the area, Jardine and his brother, Ian, offered to search in the darkness with their four-wheelers.
“This is our backyard; my brother and I know this area very well. We hunt, we know where we’re going and the trails,” Willie remembers telling the officer, who then told them to wait until the morning.
Waiting was something neither brother wanted to do and after police and fire personnel left, the two headed back down to Niupea Homestead Road where they met up with Masuda’s mother and father, who told them their son went missing about 2 p.m. after playing Airsoft, a recreational activity in which participants eliminate opponents by hitting each other with spherical nonmetallic pellets.
The brothers spent about three hours searching one mile in and one mile up from the road that night before calling it quits. Despite the forest being so quiet, no one answered their calls, Willie said.
The next morning, Willie awoke to the sound of a rescue helicopter searching for the 20-year-old. Ian had already taken off on his four-wheeler in search of the man and around 6 a.m. found what appeared to be a fresh trail made by someone walking through grass toward a gulch in the area, Willie said.
After reporting the information to officials, the brothers returned to the trail where they located an Airsoft gun magazine before finding skid marks and several uprooted small trees down the side of the gulch, Willie said.
About a quarter-mile down the gulch, Willie and Ian found footprints in mud and disturbed moss near the top of a 150-foot dry waterfall. They crept up to the edge, peered down but saw no sign of the 20-year-old.
“Then we yelled out, and, the boy answered back, ‘Are you going to help me?’” Willie said.
At the bottom, Masuda was helpless — he had broken his right leg and suffered a head injury, Willie said.
Willie said the 20-year-old was trying to find Highway 11 via the gulch and when he tried to climb down the waterfall’s side, he slipped. He said the man told him that he’d heard the helicopters searching for him the day before, but could do nothing.
“He was up, he was talking and he was all right,” Willie said. “But, he was busted up.”
The brothers immediately summoned emergency officials who dispatched a rescue helicopter to lift the man to safety. He was taken to North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.
Masuda spoke to West Hawaii Today on Wednesday and wished to express his gratitude to both Willie and Ian. He described them as knowledgeable and comforting.
“If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be alive today,” said Masuda, who said he fell about 100 feet and is currently fighting a staph infection in his broken leg.
Willie, a ready-mix truck driver for West Hawaii Concrete, was recently awarded the Knife River Hero Award by Knife River Corp., West Hawaii Concrete’s parent company, for the actions he took those February days to help save the man’s life, said Dan Sparks, safety resource manager for West Hawaii Concrete and its sister company, Hawaiian Cement.
The national award, created in 2008, honors employees who use their first-aid and safety training to help save lives and do the right thing in an emergency — both on and off the job, Sparks said. Willie received a plaque, gift cards and a spot in Knife River’s monthly newsletter.
“A lot of times, within companies, employees know what they are doing wrong more than they are doing right,” Sparks said. “Our objective is to make sure our employees are recognized for doing something right.”