A ‘Lava Bomb’ Crashed Through a Hawaii Tour Boat, Injuring 23 People

An explosion from the Big Island's Kilauea eruption showered passengers with molten debris, seriously injuring some.

Jul 18 2018, 6:59pm

Image: US Geological Survey

A molten “lava bomb” injured 23 people when it crashed onto a Big Island tourist boat on Monday.

Four people were transported to the Hilo Medical Center by ambulance—a 20-year-old woman suffered a broken leg—and others were treated for minor soft tissue burns, says Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The volcanic debris, which was the size of a basketball, crashed clear through the boat’s metal roof. Photos published by HawaiiNewsNow show the boat’s roof, deck, and seats were covered in cinder.

The incident happened when an explosion from the two-months-old ongoing Kilauea eruption sent molten detritus flying. At the time, around 6 a.m., the Lava Ocean Tours vessel christened “Hot Spot” was observing the eruption offshore as it flowed into Kapoho Bay.

Photo of the Lava Ocean Tours boat. Image: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

The state and the the US Coast Guard have since opened an investigation, and won’t comment on the matter while it’s ongoing.

We don’t know whether Lava Ocean Tours was breaking the rules when it was hit. According to the Coast Guard, boats must remain 300 yards from active lava flows, though experienced operators are allowed as close as 50 meters, reports Reuters.

A video of an explosion that morning (it’s unclear whether this was the explosion that hit the boat) was filmed by Big Island resident Ikaika Marzo.

Lava viewing cruises are appealing to tourists visiting the Big Island, Hawaii’s only eruptive island. On its website, Lava Ocean Tours promises customers “a first class front row seat to see lava enter the sea.”

The company claims that its Armstrong Marine boats, made from aluminum, are custom-built for “challenging ocean conditions.” Lava Ocean Tours requires all passengers to sign a liability waiver. During past eruptions, the National Park Service has warned people that toxic plumes can occur when lava mixes with ocean water, creating health risks as well as risks to boats and aircraft.

The Kilauea eruption has destroyed upwards of 700 homes on the southeast side of the Big Island. Residents mourned the obliteration of local spots, such as Kapoho’s beautiful tidepools, that were consumed by lava. The cost of state disaster relief and aid has exceeded $15 million, and many displaced Big Islanders remain in limbo—some camping out in tents—with nowhere else to go.

According to the US Geological Survey, nearly 700 acres of new land have been created. There’s even a mini island just offshore.

“Clearly everyone is interested to learn what happened this morning,” Suzanne Case, chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said in a statement. “In the meantime, all of those injured today are very much in our thoughts for speedy and full recoveries.”