Hawaii rescuer rappels down 81-foot hole to reach dog trapped for days, video shows

For nearly a week, Tarvan Orsatelli tossed food into the 81-foot-deep hole that his dog was trapped in on the Hawaiian island Kauai.

Orange, a 1-year-old Catahoula hunting dog, fell down the shaft Saturday in the Koloa section of the Lihu‘e-Koloa Forest Reserve, according to the state’s Division of Land and Natural Resources.

“It’s believed the vertical, tubular-shaped cavern is part of an old water irrigation system,” Hawaiian officials said.

Orsatelli knew exactly where Orange had fallen thanks to the dog’s GPS-tracking collar, allowing friends and family to drop food and water into the hole for five days in hopes of keeping the dog alive while they tried to figure out how to get him out, officials said.

Hawaiian officials said Orsatelli and his friends “knew Orange was alive due to the occasional whimpers or howls they’d hear from him.”

But the Kauai Fire Department only had ladders that reached 25 feet, so initial rescue plans had to be scrapped, according to the Division of Land and Natural Resources.

That’s where botanist Adam Williams — a certified arborist from the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife — came in: Williams agreed to rappel into the dark, wet shaft to rescue the dog, using climbing skills honed searching cliffs and trees for rare plants as part of his day job.

And so on Thursday morning, “Williams rigged his climbing gear, tied off to a stout Guava tree and began lowering himself down,” state officials said, adding that Williams “carried a radio and air monitoring device to the bottom with him” for safety.

Minutes later Williams reached the bottom — and discovered a very enthusiastic dog.

“He was really happy to see me, after he got over the shock of being down in a hole for a week,” Williams said.

Orange was bundled into a small canvas bag and rescuers at the top of the shaft pulled him to safety, state officials said.

“It was pretty straightforward — he didn’t fight or fuss,” Williams said.

Orsatelli said Orange lost weight during the dayslong ordeal — and got a few scrapes — but is doing relatively well.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.