It started out as a normal day. Well, a normal day for when you’re on vacation in Hawaii.
Which is anything but normal, that’s why you go there. Normal in Hawaii is sun, sand, surf and beautiful people enjoying their holiday or relishing the fact they live in paradise.
What’s not normal is suddenly having to deal with an incoming missile attack.
It was just after 8 a.m. on Saturday and Barrie and Denise Darnell were heading to Paia on the Island of Maui with some friends.
“I stopped at the ABC store – which is tantamount to the 7-11 stores in Campbell River – for a coffee,” Barrie said.
It was eight minutes after eight. By the time 30 minutes had passed the Darnells’ emotions will have run the gamut from disbelief to shock to fear to just a disorienting sense of “what just happened?”
The Darnells, of course, went through the Hawaii missile scare of Saturday morning. The first inkling of what was going on came to Barrie when he paid for his coffee.
“I paid for my coffee and the girl said, ‘did you get your alert?’” Barrie said. “I said, ‘no’ and she said ‘Oh, we’re under missile threat from North Korea.’
“I went, ‘Oh, interesting.’”
Barrie headed out into the parking lot and considers himself lucky he did, because the ABC store employees were going into immediate lockdown by heading to the basement.
“I was pretty lucky there because they were shutting down the ABC store and locking everyone in the basement, so I was lucky to get out,” Barrie said.
Barrie got back to the car and asked Denise to check her phone.
“We stand there in a little bit of disbelief but at the same time sirens are going off, emergency vehicles are driving up and down South Kihei Road, and across the street is the beach and the loudspeaker is saying ‘Get off the beach! Take cover! This is not a drill! This is not a drill!”
That left the Darnells momentarily wondering “Holey moley!”
“You take a minute and you think okay, well…let’s go to disbelief…and then you go to ‘what the, like, what?’ And you keep hearing ‘This is not a drill!’ Meanwhile Denise checks her phone and it’s the message that everybody’s read, ‘This is not a drill.’”
Phones lit up just after 8 a.m. that morning with the message: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
At that moment, the Darnell party wonders if they should continue to Paia or contact emergency personnel or what? They decide to go back to their resort.
Through it all they wonder is this serious? How serious is this? They debate the danger, well, will Maui be the main target? Not likely, Oahu with the military base is most likely the target, Barrie rationalized. Other ideas rolled through their minds.
“Your brain plays a lot of funny stuff,” Barrie said. “It was kind of weird.”
They decide to go to the room of Teri and Norm Marshall, Barrie’s sister and brother-in-law to see if she and her husband Norm know anything more. But they were just getting up and hadn’t heard anything at that point. Turning on the news didn’t enlighten them because there was nothing on CNN about it.
By now it’s 18 minutes into it and the reports started coming in that it was a false alarm and everybody started to calm down, Barrie said.
It wasn’t until about 28 minutes after the fact that more reports came out that this was now false.
“Twenty-eight minutes of excitement,” Barrie said.
Denise found it a little bit more than exciting.
“Anxiety. My heart was pounding,” Denise said. She immediately began texting her kids back home and others got onto social media to let everyone know what happened and that things were okay.
For all it was a surreal experience. Barrie said fear wasn’t the overriding emotion for him.
“I don’t think I was afraid so much as my brain was just calculating the odds: ‘Well it would be Oahu. Where would the radiation come from…I don’t think I was so much afraid, I guess I was just…stunned.”
All of Barrie’s brothers and sisters were there for a family wedding and for Barrie there was even a momentary sense of well, everybody’s here, let’s just kind of huddle and go out together, Barrie said.
“A couple of thoughts like that? It’s horrible when they force you to think like that, when the circumstances force you to go ‘OMG is this really going on?’”
Teri Marshall’s phone didn’t send her the alert so when they got up in the morning before the Darnells arrived, she could hear three sirens going off at the beach and lifeguards on loudspeakers saying something like it was mandatory that everyone get off the beach.
“I said to my husband, ‘Whoa, something’s going on,” Teri said.
Her husband Norm said it was a shark attack and then shortly afterwards Barrie and Denise came rushing in with the news of the supposed missile attack.
“I did not feel a sense of panic,” Teri said.
But she did wonder what do you do now? So, she did the first thing that came to mind, she Googled it.
“I literally Googled ‘is there a missile attack?” she said.
It did come up with ‘missile launched in Hawaii, everybody stay in.’ But then the very next listing was that it was a false alarm.
There was no chaos on Oahu that the Darnells and Marshalls could see. There were some reports of fear and disorder on other islands. There was some indication that the missile would land in about eight minutes at that point, given the reported 15 minutes to half-an-hour launch trajectory they were hearing.
“I went and got changed into my running clothes,” Teri said with a laugh. “In case we gotta run.”
The official false alarm report didn’t come in until 8:38 a.m. from Hawaiian emergency officials.
Immediate thoughts were for family and communicating with them, telling them they love them, that sort of thing. When the false alarm was confirmed, everything went back to normal.
When the sirens went off at the beach near the ABC store, the Darnells saw thousands of people leaving the beach like they were told.
“Literally hundreds and hundreds of people leaving the beach and ‘heading for shelter’ was the word,” Barrie said. “Within an hour, everybody was back on the beach and we were on the way to Paia.”
Everything was back to normal.
The alert was sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and was the result of human error, occurring during a shift change drill at the emergency command post, the New York Times reported.