Cameraman Stars in Volcano Ordeal : Rescue: Woodland Hills resident is recovering after spending two days trapped in a Hawaiian crater.
As a movie cameraman, Michael A. Benson of Woodland Hills has seen harum-scarum disasters and hairbreadth escapes--at least the Hollywood versions--but this time he was the star in “The Great Flight From the Gas-Filled Volcano.”
Benson, who worked on “Terminator 2” and “Ghost” among other films, suffered lung problems from inhaling sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas while trapped for two days in a Hawaiian volcano crater after a film helicopter crashed. He was in fair condition Tuesday after crawling into a net lowered from a helicopter that plucked him from the crater on Monday after an earlier rescue attempt failed.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Benson said by telephone from his hospital room in Hilo, Hawaii.
“I just have some lung problems because of the gases,” Benson said, adding that he could manage only a few sentences because an oxygen mask made talking difficult.
Cameraman Chris Duddy and helicopter pilot Craig Hosking, both from Los Angeles, reached safety earlier. They had also been treated for lung and eye irritation and released. They could not be reached for comment.
The three men flew into the Pu’u ‘O’o crater of the Kilauea Volcano on Saturday to film a segment for the Paramount Pictures Corp. production “Sliver.” The helicopter lost power and crash-landed on the crater floor about 150 feet below the rim.
About 275 feet below the rim is an active pond of molten lava, according to the National Park Service, which administers the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hosking was rescued by helicopter from the crash site a few hours after the film helicopter went down, but Benson and Duddy, who had begun to climb out of the crater, could not be found.
Hampered by intermittent rainstorms, toxic fumes from the volcano and poor visibility, rescue efforts continued through Sunday. That afternoon, Duddy, 31, managed to crawl out of the crater.
But Benson, 42, remained stuck on a tiny ledge about 60 feet below the crater’s rim. He was in voice contact with rangers from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and rescue workers from the local fire and police departments and the U. S. military, based on the rim above him.
By Monday morning, a momentary break in the weather allowed rescuers to fly a helicopter level with the lip of the crater and lower a rope with a net attached for Benson--who was out of sight of the helicopter crew. But the net caught on a rock and when Benson freed it, the helicopter, clear of the snag, shot upward. Then the weather closed in again, and the helicopter had to pull out.
A second attempt a short time later was successful. Benson managed to crawl into the net and was flown to safety.
“It was a very dangerous and difficult maneuver,” said Donna Cuttone, a park ranger.
Cuttone said that pilots working for the government are forbidden to fly into the volcano, and that other pilots limit their time inside the crater because the toxic gases damage equipment and cause breathing problems.
“They risked their lives, definitely,” by filming inside the volcano, Cuttone said. “We’ve all been absolutely amazed they all came out as good as they did.”
But producer Mace Neufeld, who worked with Benson on “Patriot Games,” said Benson was not one to take undue risks. “It was an unusual thing that you wouldn’t anticipate happening,” he said. “We did a lot of helicopter shooting over water and desert for ‘Patriot Games’ and had no problems at all.”
“Mike Benson is one of the best second-unit directors of photography in the business,” Paramount spokesman Don Levy said.
The park service estimated its cost for the rescue at nearly $46,000, including the cost of replacing equipment corroded by fumes, such as ropes, respirators and lights. By Tuesday, the movie helicopter and film equipment had not been recovered from the crash site.
Jane E. Russell, a publicist for “Sliver,” said she visited Benson in the hospital and “he looked to be in good condition and feeling well. His spirits are very, very good.”
Russell said Benson had been joined by his wife, Stephanie, and two children.
The volcano scene was being filmed as a background sequence for “Sliver,” a mystery starring Sharon Stone, William Baldwin and Tom Berenger that is being shot mostly on sound stages in Los Angeles.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.