Real survivor stories

Rita Beamish ’74 illustrates how dangerous life in Hawaii can be in her book, Perils of Paradise.

“The human will to survive…resides in most people even though they may not recognize it.”

Life in Hawaii can be dangerous. For proof, check out the stories in Perils of Paradise ($11.95, 2004, Bess Press) by Rita Beamish ’74. A resident of Hawaii for a few years, Beamish says “it seemed someone was always getting stuck on a cliff and had to be rescued by a chopper, or getting swept away by a current, or stepping into hot lava or falling down an earth crack, even getting attacked by sharks.” And, she adds, “many of these stories went unremarked upon.”

“I began to see that Hawaii was its own little world of exciting survivor stories,” she explains, “except that unlike the contrived TV shows, these adventures were real and death defying.” And Beamish, who calls herself “an adventure enthusiast,” says “I was drawn to these stories by my own curiosity about how people got into and out of these predicaments.”

The survivors she interviewed include a young woman washed out to sea by the tsunami that devastated Laupahoehoe in 1946, a surfer who lost his foot to a shark on Kaua’i, a bird surveyor carried out of a lava crack hundreds of feet deep on the Big Island, and a kayaker adrift for days on the ocean south of the Big Island. She found the stories through contacts at the Coast Guard, Park Service Fish and Wildlife Service, lifeguards, hiking clubs, friends, and lots of research in newspaper archives.

Beamish says these survivors all had something in common that helped them make it, what she describes as “some kind of fighting spirit, often that they did not even recognize—a grit, determination, savvy, or even just a heavy dose of luck.” She adds that “the human will to survive…resides in most people even though they may not recognize it.”

After earning her degree in history from SCU, Beamish earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she has also taught journalism. She joined the Associated Press after college and moved to Washington, D.C. to cover the White House, politics, and foreign policy for 10 years. Just before she moved to Hawaii, she covered the aftermath of Sept. 11 in Washington for AP.

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