Twenty-three people on a Lava Ocean Tours vessel on the Big Island were hurt Monday shortly after 6 a.m. when what has been described as a “lava bomb” sent molten lava showering down on the metal roof of the vessel, leaving a significant hole in it, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The Hawai‘i County Fire Department reports four people were transported by medics to the Hilo Medical Center by ambulance, nine others went to the hospital in private vehicles and 10 people were treated on the scene for minor soft tissue injuries and burns. The most serious injury was a traumatic leg injury suffered by a 20-year-old woman. All other passengers who went to the hospital were treated for minor scrapes and burns.
“Clearly everyone is interested to learn what happened this morning. In the meantime, all of those injured today are very much in our thoughts for speedy and full recoveries,” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said in a press release.
After the explosion, the boat returned to its dock at the Wailoa Small Boat Harbor in Hilo, where it was met by emergency medical personnel, first responders and officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. DOCARE and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating the incident and have no further comment on what happened until that probe is completed.
Anyone conducting commercial ocean tours of the active ocean entry at Kapoho are required to have a commercial use permit from the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. The owner of the boat involved does have a current and valid permit. This tour company also has permission to use the Wailoa harbor as its base of operation, after voluntarily relocating from the Pohoiki boat ramp which is about ½ mile from the active ocean entry currently. Additionally the U.S. Coast Guard established a permanent safety zone surrounding the entry of lava from the Kilauea volcano on the southeast side of Big Island. The safety zone encompasses all waters extending 300 meters (984 feet) around all ocean-entry points.
Another tour boat, operated by Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours, was off-shore when the explosion occurred. A video provided by Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours shows a second explosion, a minute or so after the first one that damaged the Lava Ocean Tours vessel.