Last week, a visitor at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park fell 20 meters (70 feet) into Kīlauea's caldera, or crater. That is, he fell into one of the most active volcanoes on the planet.
The good news is that after being airlifted to hospital, he survived to tell the tale. According to reports, the patient is in a stable condition, though time will tell what injuries this regrettable incident has left him.
According to a statement issued by the National Park Service, on May 1, at around 6.30pm, the man – identified only as a 32-year-old enlisted soldier – stumbled and lost his footing after climbing over a permanent metal railing installed for safety at the Steaming Bluff overlook "to get closer to the cliff edge."
Two-and-a-half hours later, at 9 pm, he was found by emergency responders, who discovered him alive but seriously injured on a narrow cliff edge 20 meters (70 feet) down a 90-meter (300-foot) drop. The team performed a high angle extrication with ropes and a stokes litter before whisking him away to Hilo Medical, where he received urgent medical attention.
Kīlauea may be Hawai‘i's youngest and southeastern-most volcano but it also happens to be one of "the world's most active volcanoes and may even top the list", according to the US Geological Survey.
Locals put this fervent activity down to the whims of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. The site saw almost unceasing activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and after some respite (and multiple eruptions) mid-century, continuous activity resumed along the East Rift Zone, starting in 1983.
Fortunately, it was not erupting last week. Indeed, over the past eight months, seismic activity, deformation, and gas emission have been relatively low – even if Kīlauea continues to be an active volcano. This follows the mega eruption that took place last year: an eruption that produced 113,500,000 cubic meters of lava in one month. That is equivalent to 45,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools and is enough to bury the entirety of Manhattan in 2 meters (6.5 feet) of magma.
But back to the soldier. His story is a good lesson to not climb over railing that has been installed to protect your safety – no matter how enticing the view. Several people have died attempting such feats, the most recent fatality in this particular park taking place on October 29, 2017.
"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."