Meet Ethan Pearson-Pomerantz

President of Oahu Search and Rescue, Pilot and First Officer, educator


When Ethan Pearson-Pomerantz left the East Coast for the island of Oahu in 2013, he had only a handful of local acquaintances. A newly hired pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, he relished the opportunity to learn about Hawaii and its culture on his Neighbor Island flight routes. “You’d get these regulars that the flight attendants knew because they flew them back and forth once or twice a week,” he says. “There was a real family feel to it.”

Since the outdoors had been a big part of his life since childhood, Ethan felt right at home in a place with such a strong connection to nature. He hit the trails with local hiking groups and noticed there weren’t many resources for wilderness safety. When the family of a missing hiker put out a call in 2014 seeking volunteers willing to assist with the search, Ethan showed up to help. After jumping in on a few additional searches, Ethan and several of his fellow hikers began to brainstorm ways to improve access to nature safety training and make the community’s search response safer, more organized and efficient. Ultimately, they wanted to offer help and hope to worried family members in situations when official agencies withdraw from a search.

Ethan and his cohorts researched existing search and rescue organizations and formed the nonprofit, Oahu Search and Rescue (OSAR), a team effort run completely on volunteer time and donated gear. With each search, the team faced new challenges and added more layers to their educational outreach. Since then, OSAR has grown into a go-to resource for local search and rescue missions and outdoor safety information.

Today, in addition to his full-time job flying Airbus A330s between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, Japan and Korea, Ethan leads more than 30 volunteers as president of OSAR. The team spearheads and assists with searches when state resources are limited, shares trail safety tips with everyone from Girl Scouts to church groups, and performs “trail angel” work — supplying hikers with resources like snacks, water or sunscreen as well as guidance on the trail ahead. Their goal is to help locals and travelers alike enjoy Hawaii’s trails safely by teaching preventative actions such as using the buddy system, wearing proper footwear, doing trail research before heading out, and employing navigation techniques. “We may not be able to educate everybody on the trail, but if each time we’ve empowered just one person who’s out with their friends to be a safe and knowledgeable hiker and they spread the knowledge of safe hiking to their friends, then that’s a win for Oahu Search and Rescue,” Ethan says. “And all of a sudden, we have an entire community that’s educated in good hiking practices.”

There are a lot of crossovers between Ethan’s roles as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and a search and rescue leader, from applying principles of aircraft crew resource management out on the trails to prioritizing the safety of everyone involved on a flight, hike or rescue mission. “I want to have a safe time hiking because I want to go back out and do it again, and I want other people to be able to have that experience,” he says. “It’s the same in the air — we want our guests to come back and fly with us again, so we make sure they have a really safe and enjoyable flight.”

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