An unidentified man died in Kaumana, Hilo, Hawaii after falling into a lava tube in his yard. The man, reportedly in his 70s, did not die due to the heat or vapors from lava, but from the 22-foot fall. The authorities did not release his name but say rescue crews found the body after family members reported him missing.
Lava tubes develop as molten lava flows underground. The tubes sometimes become extinct, meaning that no more lava flows through. The rock cools, turns to stone and forms a cave. The caves often become large enough for people to explore the tube once it is no longer in use. The exit for the lava offers an opening into the extinct tube.
The man that fell into the tube did not fall through the entrance. An area of the ground over the tube had become soft and gave way as he walked across his yard. Experts refer to openings like this at the top of a lava tube as skylights. It is a thin area of rock or earth that becomes an opening in the roof of the tubes.
The opening allows people to view actively flowing lava when it occurs during use, but it also becomes a hazard as the tube becomes extinct. An overgrowth of vegetation can camouflage the opening and make it impossible for people to see as they walk through the area.
An official press release stated that the police located the man’s body around 8:30 AM on November 4th, 2019. Members from the local Fire Department Rescue recovered the body by repelling into the tube. The man was already deceased by the time rescuers were able to reach the body. An autopsy revealed the unfortunate man died from the injuries that occurred during the fall.
Authorities believe the man was trimming his yard at the time of the accident, based on the reports of neighbors who had witnessed him in the yard. The police do not believe any foul-play took place. All authorities encourage caution for anyone spending time in Hawaii in grassy areas or other areas where growth or debris covers the ground. Death by falling into a lava tube is unique, but many reports exist of people injured from this type of event.