Details of Disappearance
Helm was raised in Kalama'ula, Molokai, Hawaii. He was becoming a popular musician in Hawaii in 1977 and was active in political issues. Helm primarily dedicated himself to the cause of Hawaiian sovereignty.
The island of Kahoolawe (occasionally spelled "Kaho'olawe") had been used as a United States Navy bombing target since 1941. The area was also overrun by a large goat population, which destroyed most of its vegetation. Many activists were becoming more involved with Kahoolawe's problems, especially after the end of the Vietnam War.
Numerous native Hawaiian activists began embarking on secretive runs to Kahoolawe in the mid-1970s. The United States military did not allow civilians on to the island at the time. Helm and his friend and distant cousin, James "Kimo" Mitchell, departed from Maui on their surfboards on March 7, 1977 in an attempt to paddle to Kahoolawe. The men never arrived there and have never been heard from again.
The military conducted an extensive search of the area of the Pacific Ocean where Helm and Mitchell disappeared, but no trace of the men was located. It is generally believed that they perished in some sort of accident at sea, but many Hawaiian activists believed that foul play was involved in their disappearance. Evidence supporting that theory has never been uncovered.
Unconfirmed sightings of Helm continued into the 1980s. He and Mitchell became martyrs symbolizing the Hawaiian movement. Kahoolawe was returned to the state of Hawaii in 1994. Helm's recordings were re-released in 1996, 19 years after his presumed death. His music received critical praise and gained renewed attention afterwards.
Helm and Mitchell's cases remain unsolved, but their disappearances are no longer actively investigated.