HILO — A 32-year-old man airlifted to Hilo Medical Center Wednesday evening after falling into the Kilauea caldera is a solider stationed at Pohakuloa Training Area.
Ben Hayes, director of interpretation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said the enlisted U.S. Army soldier was visiting Steaming Bluff within the park with a larger group of visitors when he apparently climbed past a metal railing at the caldera’s edge around 6:30 p.m.
The soldier then fell off the 300-foot cliff.
Hayes could not say why the soldier circumvented the barrier or whether the ground collapsed under his weight. However, he pointed out that all of the cliff edges are unstable and unsafe.
“There have been a lot of rockfalls all along that cliff face,” Hayes said.
After the soldier’s party reported the fall, rescue teams descended to the caldera floor to search for him. He was eventually found around 9 p.m. on a narrow ledge about 70 feet below the caldera rim. Hayes said the ledge was described as “about 2 feet wide.”
Rescue teams had a difficult time locating the soldier due to the darkness of night, as well as the difficulty in safely accessing the area. However, rescuers rappelled down to the soldier’s ledge and retrieved him, whereupon he was sent by helicopter to Hilo Medical Center in serious condition.
Lt. Curtis J. Kellogg, public affairs officer for the 25th Infantry Division, confirmed in a statement that the soldier was a member of the 25th Infantry Division stationed at Pohakuloa Training Area. The solider is in stable condition at The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.
“The safety of our soldiers is paramount and we are grateful to the first responders from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii County Fire Department, and PTA,” Kellogg wrote in a statement. “The circumstances related to this incident are under review.”
Hayes noted that all footpaths along the caldera have very clear barriers separating pedestrians from the caldera, and that the railing the soldier circumvented has been there for “25 to 30 years.”
“But we still observe visitors entering closed areas,” Hayes said. “This is a critical reminder that these barriers are there to protect visitors’ lives.”
Hayes urged visitors to not enter closed areas of the park or go beyond safety barriers. Even when there appears to be solid ground beyond the barriers, that ground is treacherous and could give way under a person’s weight.
The last death by falling to occur in the park took place on Oct. 29, 2017, when a Keaau woman was found dead at the base of Steaming Bluff, having evidently fallen 250 feet. The last similar nonfatal fall occurred in 2013, when a visitor fell over the stone barrier behind Volcano House.
Wednesday’s fall happened merely two weeks after a visitor fell to her death at the Grand Canyon, the third visitor to do so within a month.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.