Yesterday, molten rock rained down on a tour boat near the ocean entry of the lava flow from the Kilauea volcano, injuring 23 people. The Lava Ocean Tours Boat, Hot Spot, was on an early morning cruise to view the Kilauea lava flow where it meets the ocean. After observing the flow of lava from shore to the ocean from about 500 yards the tour boat owner and operator, Shane Turpin, decided to move the boat closer to the lava flow as he had not seen any explosions or increased activity. Feeling confident in the lava conditions, he maneuvered his boat to within 250 yards from shore. When exiting the area, a large explosion occurred, showering the boat with hot lava bombs that caused burns, lacerations, and broke one woman’s femur.
Lava bombs happen when the cooling lava is thrown up in the air in an eruption or, in this case, when the lava meets and interacts with the water. The lava cools enough to solidify and rains out of the sky as hot, solid rock. Turpin was quoted in the Hawaii Tribune Herald as saying, “As we were exiting the zone, all of a sudden everything around us exploded.”
Janet Babb, spokeswoman and geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory told the Tribune Herald that Fissure 8 (the fissure that is currently erupting at the Kilauea volcano) is estimated to pump 50 to 100 cubic meters of material a second into the ocean. When lava interacts with water it flashes to steam and can cause the lava to explode into fragments. It can also produce toxic clouds of acid and glass.
Turpin explained that after the explosion the boat banded together to help each other out as he made a hasty retreat to the docks in Hilo where they were met by emergency personal. Four people were taken to the hospital by ambulance while others drove themselves there. The most serious injury was to a 20-year-old woman whose femur was broken.
More Photos of the Damaged Tour Boat
Lava Ocean Tours has been permitted and operating a USCG inspected vessel to visit the Kilauea flow since 2006. In 2013 they launched two specifically designed catamarans for visiting the volcano, and a third one delivered in May of last year.
The Kilauea volcano has been erupting for the last 35 years but a new fissure (Fissure 8) opened up about two months ago creating increased lava flow that has enveloped neighborhoods and homes on the Big Island. Prior to this incident the only other significant injury over the past two months was a man who was struck by a lava bomb on his balcony.
The United States Coast Guard reported yesterday that it was sending a USCG investigator to look into the incident. In May of this year the Coast Guard instituted a safety zone 300 meters out from the lava flow. Although according to a USCG press release, “certain commercial and research vessels with licensed captains demonstrating experience operating in the region and carrying all required safety equipment were given special permission to approach up to 50 meters.”