Using a net and a 150-foot rope, a pilot lowered his helicopter into a steaming volcanic vent and fished out a movie cameraman who had spent two days and nights trapped inside.
Michael Benson, 42, was being treated for inflammation of the lungs, exposure and dehydration after Monday's rescue.He was the last of three men to emerge from the thick, toxic fog inside the crater on the flank of Kilauea Volcano after a helicopter crash-landed Saturday.
"He knew we were hovering over him, so we put the net down and let him get in blindly," said Jeffrey Judd, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger who helped with the rescue. "We never saw him in the steam, but the rope went tight and there he was."
Benson and cameraman Chris Duddy, 31, were filming the rugged terrain for Paramount studio when their helicopter lost power and landed hard on the floor of the Pu`u O`u vent.
The pilot, Craig Hosking of Salt Lake City, was rescued several hours later at the crash site by a Fire Department helicopter, but Benson and Duddy had left to try to scale the 150-foot-high interior wall.
Although rescuers could hear shouts from the men, heavy rain, fog and the steaming and fuming from the vent created a "whiteout" effect that made it impossible to see more than a few feet, park spokeswoman Mardie Lane said.
Duddy made it to the top Sunday and was taken to Hilo Hospital. He was released Monday. Benson remained stranded 60 feet below the rim for another night.
During a short break in the weather Monday, pilot Tom Hauptman moved the helicopter over the vent.
"There were a few seconds when they could see where he was, when the fumes separated, so that's where they lowered the net," said ranger Richard Rasp.
Benson was greeted by his wife, Stephanie. He waved to those at the rescue staging area before being taken to Hilo Hospital, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit in stable condition.
He suffered from chemical pneumonia, inflammation of the lungs from sulfur dioxide in volcanic fumes, as well as exposure and dehydration, said Kay Lee, nursing supervisor.
Benson and Duddy were filming background footage for "Sliver," a mystery movie starring Sharon Stone due to be released next year.
In Los Angeles, Paramount spokesman Don Levy called his rescue "a tremendous relief. Michael is extremely well-regarded by his peers and I know that there are a lot of people in this city today who are happy he's safe."
The Federal Aviation Administration was investigating the accident but probably will not try to retrieve the Bell Ranger helicopter, said spokesman John Gordon.