Turns Out You Can Fall 70 Feet Into Kīlauea Volcano and Survive
By Ryan Johnson
Not that you should follow this man’s lead.
One year ago, the Hawaiian volcano Kīlauea began erupting and continued for several months, eventually destroying hundreds of homes, displacing thousands of citizens, closing national parks, creating new islands, and changing Hawaii’s coastline. When all was said and done, Kīlauea’s eruption was the worst our country had seen since Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980.
Even after the damage was done, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Volcanic Assessment named Kīlauea America’s single most threatening volcano, ranking ahead of Washington’s St. Helens and Rainier and Alaska’s Redoubt. So despite Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reopening and last year’s catastrophe being in the rearview, Kīlauea is still very active and very dangerous. It goes without saying that visiting it is a risk.
That didn’t stop a 32-year-old man from climbing over a railing at the Steaming Bluff overlook, which hangs 300 feet above Kīlauea’s caldera, to approach the cliff’s edge on Wednesday night. Shortly into his journey, the man lost his footing and slipped into the caldera.
Amazingly, the man survived the fall.
Another visitor saw him slip from the 300-foot-cliff at 6:30 p.m. and promptly called the police, according to Hawaii News Now. While responders immediately hit the scene and began searching for the man, they didn’t find him until around 9 p.m. on a ledge 70 feet down from the cliff—thankfully, not on the caldera’s floor which can reach in excess of 2,140 degrees Fahrenheit. While he was “seriously injured,” per a report from the National Parks Service(NPS), miraculously, he was still alive.
The rescuers pulled off a challenging, albeit successful high-angle rescue, rappelling down to the man and lifting him from the narrow ledge using ropes and a stokes litter. The Department of Defense then airlifted the man, reportedly a Schofield Barracks soldier on duty at the nearby Pohakuloa Training Area, via helicopter to Hilo Medical Center.
The soldier is now in stable condition. “He obviously is doing remarkably well for his fall,” Hawaii County Fire Department battalion chief Matthias Kusch told Hawaii News Now. “Only time will tell what injuries he has,” Kusch added.
While the man’s survival is undoubtedly incredible, please resist the urge to tempt a similar fate. If you see a safety barrier—especially if it blocks off a destabilized cliff edge overlooking a caldera—it exists for a reason.
“Crossing safety barriers and entering closed areas can result in serious injuries and death,” said Chief Ranger John Broward in the NPS report.