Hiker dies while viewing lava

HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo A sign informs visitors that they have reached the end of the county lava viewing area in Kalapana and warns of hazards.

A hiker died today while viewing lava in lower Puna.

“There has been a death; we can confirm that,” said Jessica Ferracane, spokeswoman for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Both county helicopters were reportedly dispatched to the scene, as were county fire paramedics and police.

Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said the person who died is a male tour guide, age unknown, who collapsed in a “remote area” while leading a group to the viewing site.

“He passed at the scene,” Okabe said. “We don’t know yet if it was a heart attack or he inhaled fumes” from an active lava flow.

According to Okabe, an autopsy will be ordered to determine how the man died.

Okabe said “a couple of other people had to be looked at” by Fire Department medics.

“We don’t believe there was any foul play,” he said.

According to Okabe, the death occurred in an area where warning signs are posted.

“Fumes can change at any time down there,” he said.

Okabe said mishaps often occur in the lava viewing area, but most are people falling while hiking or crashing bicycles.

Okabe told the Tribune-Herald he’s “pretty sure” the death occurred inside the national park.

Ferracane said, however, the county and National Park are working together to determine jurisdiction for the investigation.

“It appears that it happened outside the park boundary … but it may have happened within the park. We’re just not sure,” she said. “The original 911 call came from a location outside of the national park, but that doesn’t mean that’s where the incident occurred.

Okabe said the lava viewing area won’t be closed to the public.

This story will be updated as information becomes available. See Friday’s Tribune-Herald for complete story.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.