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Kīlauea caldera

A wide-angle shot shows the southwest portion of Kīlauea caldera in the area of Halema‘uma‘u. Image: Screenshot/USGS


The Inertia

In early May, a tourist visiting Hawai’i’s Volcanoes National Park fell 70 feet into Kilauea’s caldera. Incredibly, he survived.

According to a statement by the National Park Service, “the man had just climbed over a permanent metal railing at the Steaming Bluff overlook to get closer to the cliff edge” when he slipped and fell from a 300-foot cliff.

Other tourists who saw it happen immediately called first responders at around 6:30 p.m. When they arrived, they began a coordinated search of the area. He was found just over two hours later, seriously injured on a narrow ledge 70 feet down from the cliff’s edge. “Rescue personnel successfully completed a high angle extrication using ropes and a stokes litter and, with support from a Department of Defense helicopter, the man was airlifted to Hilo Medical Center for urgent care,” the statement says.

The man’s name hasn’t been released, but he has been identified as a 32-year-old enlisted soldier. Hawaii News Now reported Thursday that Army officials say the soldier was stationed at Oahu’s Schofield Barracks and training on the Big Island.

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Last May, Kīlauea volcano’s East Rift Zone began its eruption. It was part of a much larger eruption that has been ongoing since 1983. A few days after the eruption began, an earthquake rocked the Puna district, kicking off what would be months of catastrophic damage. Massive fountains of lava shot into the air, flinging huge boulders towards the sky. Thousands were evacuated and 24 new fissures opened up.

According to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcano specialist from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, it was the “most destructive in the United States since at least the cataclysmic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.”

Thankfully for the man who fell from the cliff, that seismic activity has calmed way down. Although it’s still very much an active volcano, Kilauea has become less angry over the last six months. Still, though, the Park Service is warning people of the (obvious) dangers of a volcano.

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“Visitors should never cross safety barriers, especially around dangerous and destabilized cliff edges,” said Chief Ranger John Broward. “Crossing safety barriers and entering closed areas can result in serious injuries and death.”

Since his fall, the man’s condition has been updated to stable.

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