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Hawaii man dies after falling down lava tube hidden in his backyard

A dark and damp trail through the Thurston Lava Tube is viewed at Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.
A dark and damp trail through the Thurston Lava Tube is viewed at Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. George Rose/Getty Images

A man has died in Hawaii after falling into a lava tube concealed beneath his back garden.

According to police, the 71-year-old fell seven metres through “a soft area of ground.” He was found on Monday after friends reported him missing.

“Hawaiʻi Fire Department Rescue personnel responded to the scene and were able to rappel into the lava tube and extract the victim, whose body was approximately 22 feet below the surface,” police said in a statement.

Local publication Big Island Now reports that the former Hilo resident fell down the shaft, which was approximately two feet wide and almost 25 feet deep.

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Maj. Robert Wagner of the Hawaii Police Department told the publication that the man was found unresponsive at the bottom of the tube.

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“It appears (the victim) was trimming some branches in his yard and fell into a lava tube on his property and expired,” he said.

The man’s identity is being withheld out of respect for his family, USA Today reports.

Jason Momoa participates in protest against controversial Hawaii telescope
Jason Momoa participates in protest against controversial Hawaii telescope

The incident is currently under investigation by the Hilo Criminal Investigation Section.

A lava tube is like an underground stream for lava to flow through during an eruption. They often form over several volcanic eruptions as the quickest way for lava to flow downhill.

Lava tubes can also form when the surface of a lava stream hardens into rock, while the inner stream of lava continues to flow, according to Oregon State University‘s volcano education page.

READ MORE: Spanish man paddles across Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii

Hawaii, otherwise known as Big Island, is home to five volcanoes, including Kilauea, the most dangerous.

Back in May, a man visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park climbed past a barrier and fell into the Kilauea volcano caldera, CNN reported at the time.

“He had crossed over a metal railing to get closer to the cliff edge where he lost his footing and fell in,” Ben Hayes, a spokesperson with the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Park officials immediately launched a search and rescue operation with the Hawaii County Fire Department and around 9 p.m. local time search and rescue located the man.”

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The man was rescued in about an hour using a rope system. He was seriously injured but survived.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca