In the Memory of One Lost Life, Others Have Been Saved
By Karen Rose
In August of 1997, the lives of Frank Sayre and Laura Mallery-Sayre were about to change forever. Their 25-year-old son Danny set off to hike Kapaloa Falls, the 500-foot waterfall located in the back of Pololū Valley on Hawai‘i Island. The young man wanted to visit the place he considered to be personally sacred; the place he referred to as his ‘cathedral,’ before returning to the mainland for college.
Danny, an employee at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, was preparing to depart for the mainland the next day to finish his senior year of college, when he decided to venture out one last time before meeting up with his parents the next day. All of his future plans came to an abrupt end when he fell from the trail, landing hundreds of feet below on a rocky cliff near the waterfall. The next day came, and when Danny failed to answer any of his parentsʻ phone calls, the search for him began.
“We notified the Police Department and everybody we knew that he was missing,” said Danny’s stepmother Laura. “The next day we got a phone call from the Police Department that someone had found his backpack and shoes on the trail right next to Kapaloa Falls. The people who had found his belongings had seen them when they hiked in and when they hiked out, the backpack and shoes were still there. They looked inside of the backpack and his wallet was there, so they notified the police, then the police notified us and we went up to see if we could locate him.”
Laura and Frank’s good friends Harry Wishard and Mike Gomes, who were very familiar with the valley, offered to assist in the search. The friends joined the Sayres, the police and the Waiakea Fire Department in looking for Daniel. Their worry deepened when a rescue helicopter located Daniel, not moving, in the stream below.
Rescuers worked tirelessly for ten hours attempting to retrieve Daniel, but the extreme narrowness of the valley and the winds made a helicopter rescue next to impossible. The captain of the rescue team informed the Sayres the rescue mission would have to be called off for the day because they were unable to access the valley. Because they could not be assured their son was dead or alive, Frank and Laura refused to leave, and their persistence paid off when ace pilot David Okita arrived with his helicopter.
Because the rescue team lacked ropes long enough to rappel down to where Daniel was lying, the only option was a life-threatening helicopter maneuver, not unlike one that killed an Oahu-based search and rescue team a year earlier.
“When David arrived with his helicopter, everybody hopped to and he was able to take James Kuniyoshi, who was a rescue worker at the time, and Clarence Young, who was the fire equipment operator, down into the valley on a cable and they were able to get to Dan,” said Laura.
“When they retrieved him, they radioed up to us that he had passed away. We knew how life threatening this rescue mission was and we knew they were doing this for us and they didn’t even know who we were.” Okita was able to get close enough to Daniel’s body to allow the two fire rescuers to suspend from an attached cable and retrieve his body, but it was not without risk. “The area was so narrow, the blades from the helicopter were knocking leaves off the trees in the valley,” said Frank Sayre.
The Sayres later discovered, after the mission was called off, the rescue workers had all volunteered to stay. They wanted to see the Sayres get to their son and have him recovered or rescued. The Sayres felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the rescue workers who helped them that fateful day, and felt it was important to find a way to give back and thank the rescue team for the overwhelming selflessness and generosity they show every day.
“After we went to the hospital to identify Dan, we were on our way home and decided, you know, we need to do something—we need to nominate these individuals who were so impactful to us that day, for an award,” said Laura. “We wanted them to be recognized for putting their lives on the line, for coming to our aid and for going above and beyond the call of duty.”
Sometime later, the Sayres found out the reason the rescuers were not using rappelling ropes to recover their son’s body, was because there were no ropes on the island long enough to reach down into these valleys. The rescuers were going to have to shut everything down and fly over to Honolulu to borrow longer ropes and bring them back to Hawai‘i Island. It was not an unwillingness to continue the rescue; it was the lack of proper equipment that almost brought the mission to a halt.
The couple also discovered the county budget did not have the funds needed to provide the necessary equipment for training due to the size of the island and the diverse types of rescues taking place. With terrains ranging from ice and snow to ocean bottoms, and lava deserts to rainforest, the types of equipment needed to provide these various types of rescues was overwhelming. Hawai‘i County has a resident population of about 200,000 people, therefore it does not generate the amount of tax revenue needed to adequately fund all emergency services. The Fire Department often finds itself in need of equipment and training not covered under current budgetary constraints.
The more the Sayres researched the needs of the Fire Department, the more they realized how instrumental they could be in making a significant difference in the quality of services provided on the island.
“After a couple years of us kind of nagging the Fire Department about what their needs were, and them kind of being reluctant, the dam broke,” said Frank. “We found out they were doing underwater rescue and recovery work with forty-year-old SCUBA tanks and twenty-year-old regulators. A lot of the guys wouldn’t trust the equipment they had so they would buy and use their own. Then we found out that they were having to go up Mauna Kea to rescue snowboarders and they didn’t have parkas, boots or mittens, and they didn’t have long underwear. The list just went on, and on, and on.”
This is where the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation steps in to help. The Foundation provides life-saving fire, emergency and rescue equipment and supplies to the Hawai‘i County Fire Department and Search and Rescue Teams.
Their mission is to save lives, including the lives of local residents, visitors and first responders. From new rescue boards, megaphones, binoculars, and automatic defibrillators for lifeguards to underwater communication systems, the Foundation, with the support of the community, friends and families involved, has provided nearly two million dollars in life-saving equipment to local first responders.
“The very first year we held the awards program at the Mauna Kea Resort and Frank and I personally bought the fire department two sets of rescue ropes, one for each rescue station on the different sides of the island,” said Laura. “It was a minimal amount of money, three thousand dollars, I think it was fifteen hundred dollars per set of ropes. We also had friends who wanted to be involved and they suggested we consider having a silent auction to raise additional funds. They felt the community would really get behind the idea, and from that point on, it has just really taken off.”
Frank and Laura Sayre describe their endeavor as having a ripple effect upon the community—when one life is saved, there is a significant benefit to the entire community as a whole.
“We have amazing people in our Fire Department,” said Laura. “Every one of them are heroes. Every one of them who has gone into this profession has a big heart and wants to be helpful—they want to make a difference, and they put their lives on the line every day. They don’t ask for thanks because they are very humble. In fact, they are often embarrassed when we honor them, but our community needs to be able to do just that. We need to say thank you and they need to hear it and know how grateful we are to all of them.”
This Fall marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation. The annual fundraising dinner, organized by Laura and Frank Sayre and the Hawai‘i Island community, will take place Saturday, September 2, 2017, at the Fairmont Orchid. The event will honor the year’s most outstanding emergency responders, while raising money for necessary equipment and training not covered under the Fire Department’s current budget.
Frank and Laura Sayre are bright beacons of the Hawai‘i Island community. They took a tragic experience of loss and turned it into a tangible, life-saving community organization that saves lives. They have built more than a foundation; they have created a legacy that will live on for decades to come.
“The Daniel Sayre Memorial Foundation is truly a public foundation,” said Laura. “It truly belongs to the community. It’s not Frank’s and my foundation, it is our foundation and it is your foundation. This is for everybody.” ❖
Email the Daniel Sayre Memorial Foundation: firstname.lastname@example.org.