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Q&A with Anitta Winther & Marianne Konnerup: survivors of the 1999 Kahana rescue

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Revisiting the 1999 Kahana Survival Story

Questions & Answers with survivors Anitta Winther and Marianne Konnerup

After an eight day search two lost hikers, Marianne Konnerup and Anitta Winther, 20 year old Danish women, were found on Sunday August 22,1999 at 2:15 pm by a group of HTMC hikers on Pu’u Ohulehule, a peak above Kahana Valley. Over twenty years later, we reached out to Anitta and Marianne to revisit their amazing survival story and learn about its lasting impact on their lives. What follows are ten Q&A’s delving deeper into their experience. 

QUESTION: Eight days is a long time to be out in the elements without food, water or shelter –  do you remember what thoughts you had? Was there a time when you thought you might not survive?

ANSWER: Eight days with uncertainty and no water, food nor sleep is a long time, hence we had a wide variety of thoughts. In the beginning of course we did not expect to be stranded on that steep mountainside for that long. We thought we just needed to make it through one night as we could get up the mountain again or some hikers would pass by and help us the following day as we knew that hiking in Hawaii was very popular. Even though it was going to be a long, hard and cold night we were confident that we would get through it. 

Unfortunately nobody passed by and we didn’t have the strength and courage to climb up the mountain – we tried more times during the week. The nights were horrible as it would rain, the wind was blowing and it was colder. We hugged and stroked each other on the back to keep warm. We only dozed as we were afraid to fall down if we fell asleep. Every day the sun rose and filled us with hope that we would be found on that day and the sun also meant warmth to our bodies, except for the days when it was very foggy. At the same time we were very cautious concerning not staying in the sun for too long as it would accelerate our dehydration.

Especially as the days went by there was a point of time every day where we doubted that we would make it. Luckily we did not have these moments at the same time and therefore we could support, console and encourage each other whenever that happened. But mostly we had a gut feeling that we would make it and survive this misfortune.

QUESTION: Was there anything that helped you both stay positive and remain hopeful before you were rescued? 

ANSWER: We talked a lot about our families and friends, our past and our future – that helped us focus on surviving. Of course we wanted to survive ourselves, but were convinced that it would be unbearable to the people we knew – especially to our families if we didn’t make it or even worse – if they did not find our bodies. 

We managed to make jokes and sang songs. Being with each other and staying together was the reason we stayed more or less sane and kept calm, focused and hopeful. It was also very important that we made it together – it would have been difficult to endure if only one of us survived to continue normal life. 

As the week passed by we thought that different groups of hikers might have been alerted about our missing and therefore might search for us as they hiked. That combined with the more frequent presence of helicopters also kept up our hopes of rescue. We were not sure at all whether or not a rescue operation was on, but of course we hoped for it. As days passed by we also knew that there would be a deadline of when the potential rescue would end. That frustrated us enormously but was also the reason why we finally on that last day did our utmost and gave it our last go to get up the mountain even though we were very afraid to fall down and die. If we didn’t manage to get up that hill we believed we would die anyway.

QUESTION: Did you have any post traumatic stress after the adventure/rescue or did you just resume normal life?

ANSWER: We didn’t have any post traumatic stress that we are aware of, we were more overwhelmed by the extraordinary attention and help by the whole Hawaiian community, people in Denmark and of course friends and families who kept fighting to find us. 

After we returned to Denmark we resumed our normal lives but of course something had changed us. We were very grateful to be alive and in good conditions and we appreciated the important things in life much more. We also felt stronger as we managed to survive eight days on that steep mountainside. Sometimes when life gets difficult we manage to gain strength from that experience.  

For many years we and our families got together to celebrate the date of rescue. Now we live in different parts of the country, but we still try to meet up and celebrate every year. 

QUESTION: Did anything change in terms of your perspective on life, your values or priorities as a result of those eight days? 

ANSWER: Of course after some time the everyday challenges and thoughts increased but still we manage to be proud that we survived and appreciate the important things in our lives: The closest people and the good health of them and us.

QUESTION: How long did it take you to hike again? Do you hike now? If yes, where are your favorite places? 

ANSWER: Hiking in Denmark where we live is nothing similar to hiking in Hawaii concerning both the vegetation and the scenery. Denmark is a small flat country where it is almost impossible to get lost – especially these days where we all have smartphones with maps. 

The year after the accident we both hiked in the jungles of Thailand and Malaysia on guided tours. On the whole we have not done much hiking in the mountains or in the wild after Hawaii and the few times we have done it, it has been with a guide. Today we are not as adventurous when it comes to exploring unknown wild natural areas, but we still enjoy hiking with competent guides or friends who know the area.

QUESTION: The Kahana Valley is a favorite place of many of our members because of the flora and fauna. You had many days to focus closely on those things. Do you remember the plants, trees, and moss where you were stranded? Do you remember them in a positive or negative way? 

ANSWER: Actually we did not note much variation of flora and fauna on the hillside where we were stranded. Basically we were stranded in a place where tall trees hid us and the roots and the trunks of the trees kept us from falling down as we were interlocking ourselves between the muddy ground and the trunks. But the view we had from the hillside was very stunning with the Hawaiian mountains and the ocean in the back. 

On the contrary we remember more of the plants on our hike to and from the place we got stuck. On the first day a field of ferns on a summit scratched our legs as we walked the track. Anitta remembers that seeing them grow wildly that way was quite exotic as they were very popular in the eighties in Danish homes as houseplants. Ferns always reminds Anitta of that first day of hiking.

On the last day as we managed to get free from our spot, Marianne thought of squeezing moss to get the water from the inside. We also ate some berries even though we didn’t know if they were safe to eat, but they did not taste awful and at that time we were desperate to moist our mouths.

QUESTION: Have you visited Hawaii or Kahana Valley since the incident? If so, what was that like? 

ANSWER: Unfortunately we have never returned to Hawaii even though it has been a subject quite a few times. We have always wanted to go back together and maybe even do a hike in Kahana Valley with some guides – preferably the HTMC of course. Actually answering these questions we have now decided to save up the money to make the dream about going to Hawaii come true.  

QUESTION: Having shared this experience together, how has it affected your friendship?

ANSWER: We will always be grateful to each other. We kept each other going and will always have a certain connection and this experience binds us together even though sometimes far too long time passes by between us having contact. But whenever we finally meet, it is always great seeing each other again and it always feels like it has only been a couple of days since we last saw each other.

QUESTION: In hindsight since it has been over 20 years since your rescue, do you think the experience has affected your life in a positive or negative way?  

ANSWER: For both of us it has been predominantly positive. The incident made us realise the more important things in life and try to pursue our dreams. Also the kindness we met from people close to us and also from total strangers was very overwhelming. The only little frustrating part about this experience is that not many understand how we could get lost and why we didn’t pull ourselves together and climb up that mountain way earlier than we did. But we understand that it is difficult for other people to put themselves in our position and we have come to peace with this. 

QUESTION: Do you have any advice for anyone who might find themselves lost in the wilderness? 

ANSWER: We actually think that you guys in the HTMC are much more capable of answering this question than us. As you know the important thing is to be well prepared before you hike. But if you do get lost, remember that you are more capable and stronger than you might think. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

We will always be very grateful to all the people who participated in the search operation – the Fire- and Policedepartment and Department of Land and Natural Resources and people in general who kept looking for us. We are especially thankful to The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club who participated in our search. We will always remember that first sight of Jim Pushow, Thomas Yoza, Ken Suzuki on that steep ledge where they found us. If it hadn’t been for them, we would not have been rescued on that very last day as the search operation would come to an end. We couldn’t believe it at first that we were found. It was amazing and a great relief and from then on we just left everything for them to take care of. We will always be thankful to them.

Mahalo to Anitta and Marianne for taking the time to revisit and share their Kahana survival experience with HTMC, we hope they are able to return to Oahu and hike with HTMC someday.

For more information on this incredible rescue, visit the October newsletter story CLICK HERE.