Hawaii island fisherman in critical condition after portion of cliff collapses beneath him

Local News

HILO, Hawai’i (KHON2) — The Hawai’i County Fire Department (HFD) were called to the cliffs at the end of Paradise Drive on Hawai’i Island to rescue a 36-year-old man around 3:01 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 22.

According to HFD, a portion of the cliff, where the man was standing, collapsed. He fell 30 feet to the water’s edge.

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The male was extricated through a high-angle rescue which ended at 5:34 a.m.

The man was treated and transported to Hilo Medical Center in critical condition with head and neck injuries. He has since been flown to another hospital for further treatment.

HPD said there was no foul play suspected. It was an unfortunate accident resulting from unstable terrain where the man was fishing.

Experts said the rocks in the particular area are from a lava flow hundreds of years ago and wouldn’t be unstable like newer flows that have reached the ocean.

“In the case of some of the Puu O’O eruptions, when they were going down into the ocean along the south coast, they build out kind of a lava delta,” explained Steve Lundbland, professor of Geology at University of Hawaii Hilo. “That’s pretty unstable and will collapse, but these lava flows are older than that.”

Lundblad said cliff faces are prone to natural ocean erosion, and it happens over time as the islands shrink.

“This is part of that normal process,” Lundbland added. “It’s just, I think, an unfortunate event to be kind of in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have the collapse occur while you’re standing there.”

Another geologist said sea cliff collapses in the area are very rare and waves can undercut the cliff base causing it to weaken.

Both geologists said there may or may not be cracks to warn of an impending collapse but similar cracks occur naturally on these types of molten rocks.

“They are just going to happen whenever whatever is holding the rocks together in that place fails, and so you’re going to get that failure all in one in one motion,” Lundbland continued.

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He said it’s too hard to know if another collapse will occur at Paradise Cliffs but officials say people should be vigilant whenever they’re near shoreline edges and always go with someone in case of an emergency.

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