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76-Year-Old Hiker Rescued at Volcanoes National Park

August 23, 2013, 3:48 PM HST (Updated August 23, 2013, 4:04 PM)
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After spending a chilly night sheltering amid lava formations, a 76-year-old hiker was rescued near Pu`u Huluhulu by helicopter early Friday morning, Aug. 23 by Volcanoes National Park rangers.

Zigui Yuan, 76, of China, was reported missing by his wife, Paulili Yuan at 8 p.m. on Aug. 22.

Mrs. Yuan told rangers that the couple and a female friend had been hiking together Thursday morning, when Mr. Yuan separated from the group at the Pu‘u Huluhulu trailhead, and headed east towards Nāpau Crater.

The two women returned to the trailhead junction at the Mauna Ulu parking lot at 11:30 a.m. and waited for him.

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Mr. Yuan apparently attempted to contact his wife by phone at around 7 p.m., but the call failed. Mrs. Yuan and her companion made contact with Park Ranger John Moraes near Thurston Lava Tube.

Rangers Moraes and John Broward executed a search in the vicinity of Pu‘u Huluhulu in the dark, using powerful handheld spotlights to illuminate the rough lava landscape, while Ranger Andrew Sanford patrolled the Chain of Craters Road.

At 1 a.m., the search was suspended until daybreak.

The Pu`u Huluhulu vicinity. HVNP image.

The Pu`u Huluhulu vicinity. HVNP image.

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A ground and air search then launched at first light Friday morning. Helicopter pilot David Okita spotted Yuan approximately 660 feet (200 meters) southwest of Pu‘u Huluhulu. Okita and Park Ranger Jon Maka‘ike retrieved Yuan, who was suffering from dehydration and exhausted, but had no major injuries.

Yuan declined further medical treatment, and was reunited with his wife at 6:30 a.m. today.

Yuan, who speaks very little English, had apparently kept hiking across the sharp, jagged lava near Pu`u Huluhulu until it became dark.

No longer able to see the rock pile trail markers, Yuan took shelter against the wind in a small depression in the old lava flows, and waited for daylight.

“Mr. Yuan made the right decision to hunker down for the night,” said Ranger John Broward, Search and Rescue (SAR) coordinator at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, adding “This area is riddled with unstable ground, hidden earth cracks, deep craters, and sharp and brittle lava. He could have been seriously injured if he continued trying to find his way out in the dark,” he said.

This was the park’s 14th rescue operation this year. In total, there were 26 SAR incidents in 2012.

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