By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 57-year-old Canadian visitor collapsed and died Tuesday afternoon while hiking in a lava field near Kalapana Gardens Subdivision.
Police have not released the name of the man but said he was from Victoria, British Columbia, and was hiking with a traveling companion, another man from Victoria, on the lava flows. They apparently were not a part of a guided lava tour. The victim’s friend told police and firefighters that they had been hiking all day when the man collapsed.
“They went to the viewing area to hike to the lava plume, set out on foot over the lava flow at about 9:30 in the morning,” Puna police Sgt. William Derr said Wednesday. “They kind of lost away on their way back, zig-zagging across the lava field. The traveling companion related that the victim became disoriented and began to succumb to the heat. He stated that the victim fell down and could not go on, so the traveling companion set out to get help. They didn’t have cell phones, so I guess that’s why he had to go on foot.
“When the traveling companion attempted to return, he couldn’t find his way to the location of the victim.”
Derr said there was no sign of foul play. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday.
Seven Fire Department units, including a medical unit and a county helicopter, responded to a call for assistance at 3:02 p.m., according to a written Fire Department statement. The first unit arrived on scene at 3:34 p.m., a ground and air search was conducted and the man’s body was discovered by the helicopter. The chopper took the victim to the medical unit, where it was determined that he was dead.
Derek Salinas was leading a lava tour for ‘Ahiu Hawaii and saw the helicopter land for the victim “about 50 yards away from houses.” He said he thought at first that it was a training exercise.
“It was really close to people’s homes,” Salinas said. “There was the helicopter and there was a big old fire truck and an ambulance and they were blocking off the road and stuff. I saw them lifting somebody up. There was somebody on the gurney and somebody standing along the gurney, as well.”
Salinas said that visitors considering a hike to the lava should sign up for a tour or hire an experienced guide for safety reasons.
“Everybody who takes tours out there has extensive experience being out there,” he said. “It’s paramount to going out there, knowing where the dangers are. The danger of going out in the daytime, when you have a really high sun, is that there hasn’t been any trade winds coming through, and it’s been voggy. That can do a huge number on people’s breathing, their lungs, things like that.
“If people are going to go out there, they definitely should go out with somebody who’s experienced. There are too many things that can happen otherwise.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.