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NY man rescued after 4 nights on Mauna Loa

January 30, 2014 - 9:48pm

A 36-year-old New York man was rescued Thursday after being stranded on Mauna Loa following a winter storm that hit the summit and lower elevations with heavy snow and high winds.

Alex Sverdlov, a computer science professor from New York City, was located about 9 a.m. Thursday by a search and rescue helicopter, said National Park Service spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane. Sverdlov, whom she described as an avid hiker who successfully summited Mauna Loa last winter, suffered exposure, dehydration, sunburn and windburn, but required no medical attention other than a check by emergency medical technicians.

“I’ve done many crazy hikes, but this one pretty much tops the bill,” Sverdlov said in a prepared statement.

Sverdlov, who has been to the Big Island six times now, headed out Sunday on an 18-mile hike from the top of Mauna Loa Road, located at about 6,662 feet in elevation, to the summit of Mauna Loa. After leaving his heavy gear at a lower elevation, Sverdlov reached the 13,677-foot summit of Mauna Loa on Tuesday.

As he made a late-afternoon descent from the summit, snow began falling, ultimately resulting in whiteout conditions, according to the National Park Service, which assisted in the hiker’s rescue Thursday morning along with the Hawaii County Fire Department. After nightfall, Sverdlov made a few attempts to locate his heavy gear, then decided to hunker down in the snow until daylight, with only the clothes he had on and a bottle of frozen water, Ferracane said.

Wednesday morning, Sverdlov was able to locate his heavy gear pack, but was unable to gain much ground because of deep snow. He was forced to spend a second night on the mountain in temperatures Ferracane said were below freezing.

“It was two feet deep in some areas,” Ferracane said. Sverdlov expressed concern that he would die on Mauna Loa and was astonished when he heard the helicopter overhead Thursday morning, she added. “He just didn’t expect a snowstorm like that to roll in.”

Earlier Tuesday, park management had closed the mountain to visitors because of the dangerous weather. At the time of the closure, Sverdlov was the only registered hiker for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park backcountry summit, and park rangers tried unsuccessfully to call his cellphone before driving up Mauna Loa Road to confirm his car was there, Ferracane said.

After finding the vehicle Wednesday afternoon, Park Ranger John Broward initiated a helicopter search for Sverdlov Thursday morning.

“Even the most experienced and prepared hikers can get into trouble in the park,” Broward, who serves as the park’s search-and-rescue coordinator, said. “What saved Alex is that he had a backcountry permit so we knew he was up there, he is extremely fit and he stayed calm. We’re all fortunate this had a happy ending.”

On Thursday, Ferracane said Sverdlov had already applied for another backcountry permit to access Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s remote coastal area.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, the National Weather Service issued winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings for the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea summits, as well as a flash flood watch for Hawaii Island. The service, based on uncertified reports, said for Mauna Loa the low was 30 degrees and the high 51 degrees on Tuesday; the low was 28 degrees with a high of 51 degrees Wednesday; and the low on Thursday was 27 degrees with a high of 44 degrees.

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