A man survived a 70-foot fall into one of the most active volcanoes on Earth on Wednesday after he climbed over a metal guardrail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, authorities said.
The man, who was not publicly identified, was trying to get a better look at the cliff edge when he lost his footing. He fell 70 feet into the caldera, or crater, of Kilauea, a destructive volcano whose monthslong eruption last year spewed ash, gas and lava into the air and destroyed an estimated 700 homes on the island of Hawaii.
Kilauea is not currently erupting, the U.S. Geological Survey said in its weekly report from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. But it said in a statement that Kilauea “ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list.” The Geological Survey has ranked the volcano’s threat potential as “very high.”
“Visitors should never cross safety barriers, especially around dangerous and destabilized cliff edges,” John Broward, chief ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said in a statement. “Crossing safety barriers and entering closed areas can result in serious injuries and death.”
The man fell into the caldera around 6:30 p.m. near the Steaming Bluff overlook area, a grassy meadow marked by cracks and steaming fractures in the ground, the park said in the statement.
Park rangers and rescue workers from Hawaii County Fire Department said they did not locate him until around 9 p.m., when they found him lying on a narrow ledge below the edge of the cliff.
The park said the man was seriously injured but did not provide further details about his condition. The last time a person died in a fall there was October 2017, park officials said.
Rescue personnel used ropes and a Stokes litter to extricate the man, “with support from a Department of Defense helicopter,” the park said in a statement. “The man was airlifted to Hilo Medical Center for urgent care.”
The Geologic Survey said that Kilauea, which is traditionally considered the home of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, has had some form of continuous “eruptive activity” since January 1983. The volcano takes up the entire southeast corner of the island of Hawaii.
The eruption sequence that began last May was the most destructive in recent memory, spewing 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of lava across 13.7 square miles of the island, according to a study published last year in the journal Science. It also triggered a wave of earthquakes, including one that was magnitude 6.9.