Earlier today, a basketball-sized chunk of molten rock slammed into a tour boat off the coast of Hawaii, injuring 23 people and sending at least four to the hospital. The incident happened near the Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting since early May.
As USA Today reports, the Lava Ocean Tours boat was hit by falling lava caused by a littoral explosion near the Kapoho volcanic ocean entry, where molten rock from the Kilauea volcano is pouring into the sea.
It isn’t known how far the boat was from the ocean entry, but it was clearly close enough to sustain damage from falling debris. The incident happened around 6:00AM local time on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Today’s dramatic explosion, captured on video by a tourist on another nearby boat, threw molten rock into the air, including the basketball-sized lava bomb that pierced through the roof of the Lava Ocean Tours boat, creating a large hole. Debris from the explosion could be seen strewn along the floor of the vessel.
Eyewitnesses said the lava bomb landed on several people, injuring both passengers and crew members, according to Hawaii News Now reporter Mileka Lincoln.
The boat managed to return to its base at the Wailoa Small Boat Harbour in Hilo, about an hour’s trip from the ocean entry point. The injured were sent to the Hilo Medical Center.
“Of the injured, four were taken by ambulance, one seriously injured with a fractured femur,” explained a Hawaii County official in a statement. “Most of the injured passengers had superficial injuries and were treated on arrival at Wailoa Harbour in Hilo.”
The woman suffering the fractured femur is 20 years old, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The minor injuries were described as soft tissue injuries and burns.
#LeilaniEstatesEruption #KilaueaVolcano UPDATE (July 16 at 9 AM): Unbelievable footage from @IkaikaMarzo's crew on board the @KalapanaCulturalTours lava boat captures the lava explosion that sent lava bombs (lava rock and debris) flying into the air, which landed on a tour boat that was operated by Shane Turpin. The Hawaiʻi County Fire Department has just confirmed 12 passengers were injured. We are told three people were taken by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center. Two passengers (no details on gender or age) were in stable condition. One, a woman in her 20s, is in serious condition with a fractured femur. The remaining 9 passengers drove themselves to the hospital, and the Fire Department reported their injuries were not as serious. Hawaiʻi County Fire officials say a lava bomb punctured the roof of the boat, leaving a large hole. One of the railings of the boat was also damaged. The lava tour boat returned to Wailoa Harbor in Hilo and docked near Suisan around 7 AM. #HawaiiNewsNow has learned that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is taking the lead on this investigation, which will involve the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the county. It's unclear how close Turpin's tour boat was to the Kapoho lava ocean entry when the explosion happened, but eyewitnesses report the boat appeared to be "very close". On July 11, the Coast Guard changed their mandatory safety perimeter zone around ocean entries (Kapoho and Kalea) from 100 meters to 50 meters for licensed lava tour boat operators. I spoke with #IkaikaMarzo, who says he was consulted about the change, but disagreed with it — saying he believed it was unnecessarily close. All other mariners, without explicit written permission from the Captain of the Port of Honolulu, are required to observe a mandatory 300 meter safety zone around all active lava entry point. Stay tuned to @HawaiiNewsNow for the very latest developments! As soon as I have more information, I’ll update you. #HInews #HawaiiNews #HNN #WeAreYourSource (Images courtesy @IkaikaMarzo)
Littoral explosions happen when hot lava erupts on entry into cold seawater. Today’s explosion was particularly large, catching the Lava Ocean Tours boat and other nearby craft off guard. In addition to lava bombs, the ocean entry point is also producing noxious gasses and dangerous shards of volcanic glass that can irritate lungs.
Visiting the ocean entry site sounds exciting, but as today’s incident shows, it’s also very dangerous.