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Couple rescued, cited, for hiking at Mauna Loa summit during closure

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Officials from the National Park Service said two hikers who were rescued Monday morning from Mauna Loa after getting lost during severe winter weather that had closed the summit.

They were also cited for hiking without a required permit, which officials said had been canceled due to the weather.

The Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park said the hikers – one man and one woman — were not injured.

The pair first called 911 Sunday morning to report that they were out of food and water in the freezing winds, and that their phones were running out of power.

A helicopter pilot deployed with a search-and-rescue ranger on board, and found the uninjured couple on a slope at about the 11,000-foot elevation of Mauna Loa.

Due to the elevation and gusting winds, rescuing the pair by helicopter was determined to be too risky, officials said.

The ranger gave the couple food, water and a satellite communication device, and instructions on how to return to the nearest shelter to hike out on their own.

Shortly after sunset on Sunday, however, the hikers texted the ranger to tell him they had lost the trail near 10,300 feet in the foul weather.

On Monday morning, the helicopter returned with the ranger and extracted the couple from Mauna Loa, one at a time.

The two hikers, along with two others that had gone up to the summit on Sunday, but got separated during the hike, according to officials. The other couple had hiked out on their own without incident.

All four were cited for engaging in activities without required pemrits.

“The search-and-rescue mission could have been prevented if the hikers had followed explicit directions to check in and pick up their permit from the park’s backcountry office,” said Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Chief Ranger Jack Corrao in a statement. “The park closed the summit of Mauna Loa and canceled all high-elevation backcountry permits on January 9 due to severe winter weather, and we immediately posted a closure alert on our website and social media outlets. Their actions put themselves, the pilot and our ranger at great and unnecessary risk.”

A high wind warning remains in place for Big Isle and Haleakala summits through 6 p.m. Wednesday due to southwest winds of 35 to 75 mph, with localized gusts over 90 mph.

Park officials said all areas on Mauna Loa above Red Hill Cabin at the 10,000- foot elevation remain closed.

Although visitors can apply for permits online, they must still go to the backcounty office in person to pick them up. Those permits had been canceled due to the weather, with notificaitons sent to applicants.

Visitors can find information on backcountry permits at the park website.

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