The body of a middle-aged woman was found about a half mile from Chain of Craters Road on the morning of Tuesday, October 15. The victim had some contact burns from cooling lava, but there were no apparent signs of foul play. Later that day, Hawaii County PD notified the park that they had a missing person’s report from a cruise ship that had docked in Hilo which they’d received on Monday. Investigators determined that the victim was that same missing person - Jacqueline Gast, 45, of Fort Myers, Florida. Gast had been on a van tour of the park. She’d failed to meet at the tour bus at the appointed time, and they left without her after waiting for about a half hour. Evidence indicates that Gast died from exposure to the elements, exacerbated by a previous medical condition. The area where she was found is in open terrain and within sight of the road. It appears that the lava-caused contact burns occurred after she’d died. The investigation continues.
[Submitted by Paul Ducasse, Chief Ranger]