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GOP lawmaker insults Pelosi: It must suck to be that dumb. The man was reported missing after he wasn't heard from or seen in several days, according to Hawaii Island police. When they went to his home in Kaumana on Monday they discovered the man had plummeted 22 feet below the surface through a soft area of ground on his property into a lava tube, according to a press release.
According to the US Geological Survey, lava tubes are natural channels through which lava travels beneath the surface. Tubes form by crusting over of lava channels and pahoehoe flows. Kaumana Caves Park near Hilo is a destination for hikers that can explore the lava tubes created by an flow from Mauna Loa.
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Police Maj. Robert Wagner told Big Island Now that it appeared the man had been trimming branches when he fell through the soft ground. Rescue teams were able to rappel into the lava tube and bring the man back up. He was transported to Hilo Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, the press release said.
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Police have not released the man's name, as his family has not been notified. A roof forms over the river, allowing the lava beneath it to go on flowing for months until it slows and drains and hollows - becoming a tube. Despite their ubiquity on Hawaii's Big Island, it's rare for someone to fall into a lava tube, experts say. But it can happen. And on Monday, police said it happened to an elderly man - in his own backyard in Hilo, on the island's east coast. The man, named by Big Island Now as Robert Hisashi Nishimoto, 71, appeared to be trimming branches in his yard when he fell "through a soft area of ground" into a hidden lava tube and died, police said on Wednesday.
Police arrived at Nishimoto's home to perform a welfare check on Monday after one of his friends called to report him missing, Big Island Now reported. Rescue personnel found him at the bottom of the centimetre-wide lava tube, 6. He was take to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy found he died "as a result of injuries consistent with falling" and police said no foul play was suspected.
It's unclear how he fell into the lava tube. Ken Hon, a vulcanologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, told The Washington Post he suspects the hole was already there and that the man most likely just didn't see it - possibly because it was covered in overgrowth. Plenty on the island are, Hon said.
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The holes are called "skylights", he said. If you think of a skylight in a house, it's just a window up in the roof.
The skylight is a hole in the roof of the cave. Hon and two other scientists told the Post believe there's a good possibility the lava tube formed during the massive eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano. The lava flowed for months and kilometres, threatening the town of Hilo as it inched closer. People prayed to God and Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, asking for the lava to stop, building ditches and blasting dynamite to try to divert its flow, the National Park Service said.
More than nine months later, once the rivers of lava stopped, the result was the Kaumana Caves - an eight-kilometre network of lava tubes. Tom Shea, a vulcanology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said tube systems are typically structured "in a treelike fashion". The primary tube is the trunk, sometimes stretching nine metres or more in diameter, while secondary tubes are like branches, growing smaller with distance, he said.
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The victim most likely fell into "the prolongation of the well known Kaumana Caves on the west side of Hilo," Shea said. Shea said the lava tubes were a "major issue for land stability" on the Big Island, and that geological surveys typically detect them before construction of buildings and homes.
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The roofs of the tubes may "support significant weight for years, decades, or more and never collapse", he said.
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