Pali Puka and the missile that wasn’t real

Pali Puka and the missile that wasn’t realBritni Wood (left) and Coralyn Wilson (center) with a friend at the top of Pali Puka, shortly before the alert went out. — Courtesy photo

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When Hawaiians received the false alarm about an inbound ballistic missile on Saturday morning, family members of former Ridgecrest residents were among those caught up in the harrowing experience. Britni Wood, daughter of Beth and the late Dr. Richard Carroll, was at the top of Pali Puka with two friends.

“My first thoughts were that I was going to die and never see my kids again,” recalled Britni. “They were probably so scared, and I wasn’t there to hold them and comfort them.” She called her husband, Nate, to make sure he was awake, tending to the children and taking whatever precautions were possible to stay safe. “I immediately started praying,” she said. “I started praying and repenting for my sins, and repenting for the sins of my loved ones as well so we could all meet in heaven.”

After that experience Britni and Nate realized that they were not prepared for such an emergency, and began making plans. They now store water, food and other necessities in their cars.

“We also realize that life is short and we never know when we are going to go, so we need to live life to the fullest,” said Britni. “Also to live a life walking the path God has made for us. And know that whatever happens, it is His will and to be prepared to meet Him in heaven.”

Nate Johnson is the son of Travis and Beverly Johnson of Ridgecrest. He is in the U.S. Army, stationed at Schofield Barracks as a radiology technician. He and Britni have two children, Dylan and Katelyn.

The following, originally posted on coratheexplorerblog.wordpress. com, is the first-person account of one of Britni’s hiking companions.

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By CORALYN WILSON

I had posted earlier about how things have been really rough lately. and I decided to go on a Daniel fast for some spiritual rejuvenation, and man it’s been tough! But I woke up on Day 6 feeling ready to hit the trails.

My friends and I decided to hike up Pali Puka, It’s an illegal hike I have done before that begins at the Pali Lookout and after a steep ascent, then follows a narrow cliff line upward with some ropes and scrambling. Definitely a difficult hike in the sense of safety because the dropoff is a doozy and it’s not recommended for those afraid of heights

All was well. We made it up to the puka (puka means hole in Hawaiian), chatted it up with other hikers, took our pictures and enjoyed the beautiful view. It was a great way to start a Saturday with a beautiful landscape of the windward side with two of my closest friends on our beautiful island.

That’s when things took a terrifying turn. The tension between North Korea and the U.S. has been frequently making headlines, especially for us Hawaii residents, and as a military family we are always alert to any updated news that could possibly affect us. The islands reinstated the use of Cold-War-era sirens to alert us all in the event of a nuclear missile. This siren goes off once a month for testing, so we are pretty used to thinking about our plans in case of an attack. We are told to find shelter and that we have pretty much 30 minutes to live in the event we cannot intercept the missile. And at this very moment, our worst fears became a reality when Alyssa’s phone buzzed with this alert.

After double, triple, quadruple checking that the alert was real, we began to scramble to get down the dangerous cliff line as quickly as possible. The top of a mountain was the last place we wanted to be. The three of us women had one initial thought in mind and that was we needed to get to our kids.

Remaining calm was hard. We had to concentrate on carefully descending safely down ropes and boulders. I felt so nauseated with anxiousness, it was hard to focus. Meanwhile, another friend began to panic. I started praying out loud because it helped me stay focused on the task at hand: getting down quickly and safely. And, man, did we book it down — but not without some stumbles.

Within a minute of the alarm going off my deployed husband, Matt, called. I immediately assumed he knew the news. Everyone must know already! I answered immediately with “I love you, Matt” with a shaky voice, still concentrating on watching my footing with cellphone in hand and emotions blazing. He knew right away something was up, and when he calmly said, “I love you too, what are you up to?” I knew he didn’t know.

“A missile is inbound, Matt.”

“What?!”

“We’re out hiking Pali Puka. We’re trying to get down fast. We got an alert that a missile is inbound and to find shelter. I love you. I just want you to know I love you so much, babe. I’m trying to get to the kids. They’re with my dad. I need to call my dad to warn him.”

At this point I could feel the worry pulsating through the phone on his end. I reiterated a few things because he was still shocked and confused. He said he loved me again, and I hung up to call my dad.

“Dad. Dad did you get the alert”

He answered so calmly

“Yes I saw it.”

“Dad, make sure the kids are inside. Take care of them. I’m hauling ass down this mountain as fast as I can and trying to get there as soon as I can.”

“Okay, be safe. I got the kids”

I was astounded by how calm he was. And I began to calm down too.

“Wait. Let me talk to Madison.”

Knowing I most likely wouldn’t make it to them in time, I was so worried she was scared and needed me.

“She’s still sleeping.”

I thought to myself, “It’s better this way, there’s nothing we can do, just let her sleep.” It hurt my heart thinking these thoughts

“Don’t wake her then. Its OK. Don’t wake her. I’m coming. I love you, Dad.”

“I love you, too.”

When we made it to the bottom in record time, maybe seven or so minutes, it felt like such a relief. I was feeling so claustrophobic in the bamboo. I just wanted to get into the car and onto the highway. Every inch closer to my kids I felt tension on my heart and chest loosen.

We yelled to some hikers heading up, making sure they heard the news, but there was no time to chat about it. Telling them and getting to the car was all I was concerned with.

In the car thoughts were racing. I could feel panic rising and the clock was ticking. My friend Britni broke down and put her hands to her face crying “I’m just so scared.” I reached from the back seat to rub her arm and console her that it was going to be OK. We anxiously chatted about how our military can intercept the missile. Phones were going off from texts and calls. Britni’s family was racing over to the radiology clinic on post where the walls are lead. But Alyssa could not get hold of her husband at all, and she frantically tried over and over and over again until one of us took her phone for her and continued the efforts so she could concentrate on speeding down Hwy. 3 safely. Traffic was made up of everyone else speeding while on cellphones — obviously doing the same thing as us, calling loved ones and trying to get to safety.

I texted everyone I immediately thought of — “I love you” to some lifelong friends, brother, sisters-in- law and mother-in-law. Then Matt called again

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, we’re on the road. Nothing has happened yet. Shouldn’t it have happened yet? It takes 15 minutes, right?”

“No, it can take 20 or so. It’s only been 17. I love you so much.”

My voice shaking trying not to cry, I said, “I love you too. I’m not scared. I love and miss you so much but I’m not scared. I just want you to know that no matter what happens I love you, and we and the kids are going to be OK. We will be OK …we’ll be with Jesus no matter what, OK?”

“OK, babe. I love you so much. I wish I was there with you guys”

Around this time we began making it through the Pali highway tunnels where tons of cars were pulled over for shelter. Smart in the sense that it would protect them during impact, but it would do nothing for radiation. That’s when we got the first news via text from a friend that the alert was a false alarm. Then another, this time from a friend who is in Army intelligence. Britni shouted the news with joy and relief, and we could breathe normally again. I told Matt the news, and he quickly told me he needed to tell others, and we got off the phone. I then called my dad and let him know.

No formal announcement on the alert system was made at this point, so we were still a little anxious, but nothing in comparison to how we were prior. We still made that 45-minute drive from Honolulu to Wahiawa in 25 minutes. We all just wanted to get home and hug our families.

I took a video (after unofficially finding out that it was a false alarm) of the cars pulled over for shelter in the Pali tunnels and sent it to a friend via text. She posted the video on Instagram, and within a few hours I had a request from an ABC news rep requesting permission to use my video. I said sure and next thing you know the video made nationwide news on ABC News (abcnews.go.com/US/drill-hawaii-residents-wake-false-alarm-imminent-missile/story?id=52328642.)

The video was taken mid- to end of the tunnel so it didn’t show as many people compared to how many were closer to the other side, but you can see that we weren’t the only ones freaking out.

This is the scariest thing that ever has (or in a sense, hasn’t) happened to me. It makes me so angry to think that this all happened because of a careless accident. But at the same time I can’t deny that it gave me a new perspective on life, brought me closer to my friends, and reminded me how much I cherish my family — not to mention how much it made me rely on God and my trust in Him. Also reflecting about the timing and the fact this happened halfway through my fast, I know it tested me and my faith, and I believe it gave me the jolt I needed in my walk with Christ that I was so desperately seeking.

Needless to say, I may be taking a break from hiking and staying closer to home for a while. But I know in time I’ll be back out there hitting those trails again.

Joshua 1:9 — “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Story First Published: 2018-01-19