Park rangers and a helicopter pilot rescued a 76-year-old man early Friday morning who got lost near Pu'u Huluhulu in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park the previous day.
Zigui Yuan, 76, of China, spent an uncomfortable and chilly night on an old lava field after getting lost near Pu'u Huluhulu cinder cone, where there is little or no cell phone reception.
His wife, Paulili Yuan, reported him missing yesterday at 8 p.m. She 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 toward Nāpau Crater. The two women returned to the trailhead at 11:30 a.m. and waited for the man.
At approximately 7 p.m., Mr. Yuan attempted to contact his wife by phone, but the call failed. The women then drove to Thurston Lava Tube and reported him missing to Park Ranger John Moraes.
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 Chain of Craters Road for the missing man. At 1 a.m., the search was suspended until daybreak.
A ground and air search was launched at daybreak. Helicopter pilot David Okita spotted Yuan approximately 660 feet (200 meters) southwest of Pu'u Huluhulu. Okita and Park Ranger Jon Maka'ike landed, and retrieved Yuan. He was cold, dehydrated, and exhausted, but had no major injuries, and declined further medical treatment. Yuan was reunited with his wife at 6:30 a.m. today.
Yuan, who speaks very little English, told rangers through his wife that he kept hiking across the sharp, jagged lava until it became dark and he could no longer see the rock pile trail markers. He 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. "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.
Park rangers remind visitors that the best way to avoid potentially serious incidents is to plan ahead and prepare. A full range of hiking tips and other safety-related information is available on the park's website at www.nps.gov/havo, and by asking park rangers.
This was the park's 14th incident this year. There were 26 incidents in 2012.