Leilani man ‘wasn’t panicking’ even as lava approached his home

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Resident John Artymovich stands Friday at one of the areas where lava crossed Luana Street in Leilani Estates.

An eleventh-hour escape from a lava-doomed home was more sedate than might be expected, recounted a Leilani Estates resident who was rescued by emergency responders Sunday night.

John Artymovich, who until Sunday evening lived on Luana Street, said his departure from his home — a 7 p.m. trek through the jungle to the adjacent road — was a simple affair.

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“I wasn’t panicking,” Artymovich said. “The wind was blowing away from me. If it was blowing toward me, I would have been running for my life.”

Artymovich said he called 911 when a fast-moving pahoehoe lava flow approached within 50 feet of his property. Artymovich said he initially thought the flow would circumvent his property and only destroy the other side of the street.

When the flow demonstrated otherwise, Artymovich became unable to leave his property by road.

“I asked for a helicopter,” Artymovich said. “They said they couldn’t send one.”

Without a helicopter, 911 dispatchers instead guided Artymovich through the jungle behind his property to the parallel Nohea Street with the assistance of a remote-controlled drone.

The drone, a tool of the Department of the Interior’s Unmanned Area System’s Kilauea response team, provided aerial surveillance of the area, while also serving as a visual marker for Artymovich.

“They kept asking if I could see the drone, I said ‘yes,’ so they said to walk towards it,” he said.

Artymovich insisted he was never in need of assistance during the rescue. Equipped with a machete and work boots, he said he was capable of navigating the approximately 1,000 feet of jungle between Luana and Nohea streets.

“There were other people who needed help more than me,” Artymovich said.

Nonetheless, he said, he appreciated the lengths to which emergency responders went to retrieve him.

Artymovich’s rescue took approximately 10 minutes and was a joint effort between the Department of the Interior, the Emergency Operations Center and a field team of police and fire units.

The various teams remained onsite for more than two hours to assist in the evacuation of other residents and to track the rate of the lava flow’s advancement.

Artymovich’s home was destroyed, he said.

“It’s pretty much a parking lot now,” Artymovich said.

One week before he was forced to leave, Artymovich told the Tribune-Herald he would only leave his property if his life or health were threatened.

Now, despite his narrow escape, Artymovich is still living in Leilani Estates, this time at a friend’s home on Hapuu Street, one of the westernmost streets in the subdivision.

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A video about the rescue can be found on the Tribune-Herald’s YouTube page.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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