By CHELSEA JENSEN
A California teen escaped serious injury Wednesday evening after he fell 20 feet into a steam vent while reportedly trying to perform an urban gymnastics stunt at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The 15-year-old San Rafael, Calif., boy was apparently trying to execute the move off a protective railing surrounding a steam vent located between the Kilauea Visitor Center and Volcano House when he fell into the earth crack about 6:45 p.m., said John Broward, the park’s Search And Rescue coordinator.
The teen apparently did not realize that below a thick layer of green ferns just inside the railing was a 6-foot-wide hole, he said.
“With the ferns (there), he probably thought he wouldn’t fall,” said Broward. “He just jumped over the railing into the hole and found it wasn’t solid, but rather a big puka.”
The boy fell at least 20 feet before landing on a ledge that left him with limited communication with his mother and rescuers. Broward said it appeared the boy broke part of his fall by grabbing onto the tube’s edges during the fall.
Stephens Media was unable to make contact with the boy or his family as of press time on Thursday.
Broward said he hooked up his technical rope system to rescue the boy and requested assistance from the Hawaii Fire Department. The rescuer then rappelled into the fern-covered hole.
“It was like going into a big chimney,” he said. “It’s rocky. It’s muddy and it’s just moist and damp.”
Broward estimated the temperature at the boy’s landing point to be about 80 to 90 degrees — much lower than the normal 120 degrees measured at the surface of a steam vent — thanks to little rain in the area that day which resulted in reduced steam production. At 4 feet deep, a steam vent can reach 160 degrees.
“He was doing good, but a little shaken up,” Broward said about the boy’s condition. “He was holding together pretty well and once we got down there, there was a sigh of relief.”
Broward and the boy were subsequently lifted from the vent with the assistance of the Hawaii Fire Department. In all, the boy spent about an hour in the vent.
The teen, according to Broward and the park, was relatively unscathed, suffering just a bump on his head and minor abrasions to his body. Medics examined the boy and the family declined further medical treatment.
“He was really lucky,” Broward said. “If it had been a straight fall it wouldn’t have been as good an outcome.”
Nevertheless, Broward and Jessica Ferracane, with the park’s public affairs office, emphasized that park users need to exercise safety when at the 333,000-acre national park. A lot of that can be done by planning ahead and researching the park’s website as well as asking park rangers questions, they said.
“It all boils down to common sense,” said Ferracane, who also noted during her tenure a dog got loose and fell into one of the vents and died. “This is a national park. This kind of behavior can have unfortunate consequences.”
Email Chelsea Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.