All the Hollywood film crew to needed to complete the Hollywood blockbuster Sliver were shots for one final scene. The job would take them all the way to beautiful Hawaii, but this trip would not be remembered for the islands’ incredible scenery.
A professional cameraman joined his assistant and their pilot for the daring mission, but they had no idea how close they would come to a devastating fate straight off the silver screen…
Michael Benson always knew he wanted to be on the forefront of adventure. As a young man, he caught the shutter-bug and became interested in documenting the world around him, going on to study journalism. Mike dove right into the journalism industry and landed impressive jobs at The New York Times, Rolling Stone, MTV, The New Yorker and The Washington Post before going out on his own as a freelance journalist.
Mike Benson’s career was certainly going places, but he was ready for more action after studying at NYU Graduate Film School. Yet before he could work on some of his own passion projects, he’d have to learn what it was like to be a true adventure photographer and stare face death right in the face…
While living in Los Angeles and working as a successful freelance cameraman in 1992, Mike was hired to work on a Hollywood film for Paramount Pictures. It was a thriller starring Sharon Stone and required Benson and his technician Chris Duddy to shoot some incredible aerial footage of one of the world’s most deadly volcanoes.
One More Shot
All the film needed before completion was a few final shots inside the legendary Pu’u ‘O’o crater of Kilauea on the island of Hawai’i. The men knew it would be a dangerous mission, but were professionals and for them, descending into a giant volcano was all in a day’s work. However, the problem was that in the past decade prior to 1992, the crater was known to still be active…
At 2,290 feet tall, the Pu’u ‘O’o crater is a volcanic cone in the eastern rift zone of the Kīlauea volcano on the Hawaiian Islands. Since January 3, 1983, it has been one of very few active and erupting- volcanoes on the planet. This also made it the longest-lived rift-zone eruption of the last two centuries.
Over the years, it would destroy homes, farmland and coastal highway on the Hawaiian island. However, Paramount deemed it safe enough for the veteran cameramen to film from the safety and comfort of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. All Benson and Duddy had to get the few last shots in Hawaii to get their payday, but neither man could have ever expected how dangerous getting that aerial footage would be…
Still, the veteran cinematographer and technician were confident they could pull it off with pilot Craig Hosking flying the helicopter. On the morning they took flight, Duddy threw a bottle of gin into the violent crater, as custom dictated, to appease the resident Hawaiian goddess, Madam Pele, the resident Hawaiian goddess.
Unfortunately, he missed the pit of hot lava and the bottle landed near the crater wall instead. At the same time, the helicopter was in a low visibility area, just about 10 feet above the floor of the crater, when Hosking turned and yelled to the other two men and said, “We’ve got a problem.” When they looked up, they could see the wall of the volcano was directly in front of them….
As the helicopter’s two rotor blades hit the wall and went flying off, the men feared they were about to die. Then the durable, military-grade chopper plunged to the ground and broke apart into three pieces. Yet by some miraculous intervention, Benson, Duddy, and Hosking all survived.
In fact, all three of the men were completely unscathed from the terrifying crash. However, none of this made up for the fact that they were now stuck at the bottom of a fire pit that could erupt with hot lava at any moment. They were far from safe and became engulfed by harsh fumes of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide within minutes of the crash…
One Way Out
Though their fates seemed grim, the men were determined to get out of Puʻu ʻŌʻō alive and see their loved ones again. They started climbing the nearest wall, only to keep falling back to the ground on the loose cinder. Nevertheless, they refused to give up.
Flames & Smoke
Eventually, Benson was able to climb to a narrow ledge 75 feet below the crater’s rim. His trusty camera technician, Duddy, was able to climb 30 feet higher, while Hosking, stayed behind to try and get the chopper-radio working to call for help. During the terrifying ordeal, none of the three could any other because of the steaming hot flames and smoke surrounding them…
The three men were able to protect their lungs for two long hours before a team of rescuers located them. They hoped they would be saved after all, but the problem was that Duddy and Benson were in a completely inaccessible and dangerous part of the crater. Sending rescuers in by foot would put the lives of the park rangers at great risk.
Or even worse, start an avalanche of flaming hot magma, burying the men. Visibility was almost at zero when Benson and Duddy heard rescue choppers overhead, but when they shouted down to Hosking and heard no reply, they feared he had either fallen into the fire pit or been killed by the noxious fumes…
Thankfully, the helicopter had already spotted Hosking lifted him to safety, but with darkness soon upon them, Duddy and Benson spend the night clinging ledges inside the volcano, surrounded by complete darkness. To help keep the brave cameramen alive, rescuers would blow a whistle to let them know no one had given up on them yet– and encourage them to keep fighting.
Soon the heat from the loud, bubbling and fiery red lava below them was replaced with something nearly as terrifying At 2,400 feet above sea level, they became drenched by cold wind and rain that threatened to push them from their ledges. Although they made it through the long and stormy night, by the next morning, they had started to lose hope.
Duddy said a prayer and shouted to his colleague, Benson, who he still couldn’t see, he said a prayer, took a deep breath and started climbing toward the top. The cinder walls nearly crumbled as he dug his elbows in to get higher and higher before finally heaving himself over the ledge to safety.
Meanwhile, after a huge chunk of volcanic rock dropped to the volcano floor, Benson was convinced Duddy has fallen to his death and that he was now the lone survivor. Another day turned into night as he fought to stay awake through terrible hallucinations, including one of Madam Pele, the deadly fire goddess herself. He saw visions of his wife and children and heard thousands of voices saying, “You have everything to live for. You’re a fighter. You’re too young to die,” according to PEOPLE.
Thankfully, the voices had been right– and some of them could have even been the real calls of the rescuers who refused to give up on him. After Benson had gone two full days without, sleep, food or water, Maui pilot Tom Hauptman decided to risk his own life in near white-out conditions to try for a daring rescue. He dangled a 70-foot cable and attached chair over the ledge and by the fourth try, Benson was able to grab hold.
“They lifted me out of there and gave me the ride of my life,” Mike Benson later said from a Hilo, Hawai’i hospital, where he was treated for inflammation of the lungs and severe laryngitis. “I turned back to Madame Pele and said, ‘You didn`t beat me,’… ‘You didn`t get me.” He was overjoyed to learn that despite all odds against them, all three men had come out of the nightmare deeply shaken, but alive. The erotic thriller, Sliver, was released the following year in 1993 with an alternative ending after the disastrous attempt to get the fiery footage.