KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - A Canadian tourist in Hawaii has survived a disastrous sequence of events after he took a wrong turn while heading out to watch the sunrise, drove off a cliff, fell out of the wreck and was washed out to sea.

The crash woke up local spearfisherman Mike Moody who was sleeping in a vehicle nearby with a dive partner at about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Moody said the tourist was very lucky not only to have survived the 20-metre cliff fall in his vehicle, but also the 90 minutes he spent in the water afterward.

Hawaii Fire Department Chief Kazuo Todd said the man was driving a rented Jeep SUV when he drove off a dirt trail on Hawaii's Big Island.

He said the 27-year-old Canadian was near the southern tip of the island trying to find somewhere to watch the sunrise when he went off the edge, not far from the popular South Point diving cliff, crashing onto rocks below.

Todd said the man crawled out of the wreck on the passenger side only to plunge into the ocean.

“He slipped over the car, I guess one door, the one he was sitting next to the driver's side, was not openable. So, he got up to the passenger side and, just the way the car was set up, he fell into the water,” said Todd.

He said a spearfisherman called the fire department and rescuers found the driver about 100 metres offshore.

Todd said his team brought the driver to safety by using a high-angle rope system to pull the man up the cliff.

The tourist had some minor scrapes and was hypothermic, but was released from hospital shortly after being treated.

Moody later shared photos showing the wrecked white SUV at the foot of the cliff, with waves splashing just below.

He said a helicopter and fire and rescue crews responded to the scene quickly.

As a fisherman who frequently visits the area, Moody said he was shocked that such a crash could happen.

“You know we drive around there a lot. It's pretty safe if you are paying attention, but I don't know what happened to this guy he went off pretty quickly.”

Moody said the area where the tourist fell is one of the “craziest places in the world for spearfishing” and the water is very deep with big currents.

“It's one of the only places on the Hawaii Island chain that immediately when you touch the water, there's ... a big current,” he said, explaining the dangers of the waters.

“He was very lucky to survive at all just being in the water down there at night, let alone with an injury,” said Moody.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.