Lava explosion injures dozens on Hawaiian boat tour

At least 23 people were injured on Monday off Hawaii’s Big Island after an explosion caused by lava oozing into the ocean sent molten rocks crashing through the roof a sightseeing boat, officials said.

The injured people were on a tour boat that shows visitors lava plunging into the ocean from the active Kilauea volcano that has been shooting lava for the past two months.

The U.S. Geological Survey geologist Janet Babb explained that explosions occur whenever 2,000-degree (1,093-degree Celsius) lava enters cold seawater. Some explosions could be so tiny they are barely visible, but, in certain conditions, large explosions can happen that send molten rock and other debris into the air.

The lava penetrated the tour boat’s roof and left a hole, according to firefighters. A woman in her 20s is reportedly in a serious condition as the incident broke her thigh bone. She was transported to Honolulu for treatment, officials said.

Twenty-two other people suffered scrapes and burns and 12 of them received further treatments but have since been released.

Shane Turpin, the owner and captain of the boat, said this was the first time he saw the explosion that caused a rain of molten rocks on top of his boat. He didn’t see “any major explosions” before moving the boat closer to the lava.

“As we were exiting the zone, all of a sudden everything around us exploded,” he said. “It was everywhere.”

The captain of the ship didn’t realize the magnitude of the explosion until he saw the video later. “It was immense,” he said. “I had no idea. We didn’t see it.”

Lava Hawaii AP

Damage can be seen to the roof of a tour boat after an explosion sent lava flying through the roof off the Big Island of Hawaii.  (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

Turpin praised the people caught up in the incident and visited one woman who got injured. “They’re unbelievable people,” he said of the woman and her family, who are visiting the island. “Just really good people.”

“What I saw in humanity this morning was amazing. I mean this was a group of people that never met before, and they were brought together,” he added. “In all honesty, we definitely evaded a catastrophic event today.”

Officials have been warning of the risks of getting close to lava entering the ocean. But despite the warnings, multiple companies operate the tours allowing visitors to see the lava explosions with their own eyes.

The U.S. Coast Guard in May created a safety zone where lava enters the ocean off the Big Island, banning vessels from entering closer than 984 feet (300 meters) from ocean-entry points.

The measure allows exemptions for experienced vessel operators who, if granted the exemption, can get up to 164 feet (50 meters) from where lava flows into the ocean.

Since May, Kilauea volcano has wrecked more than 700 homes after it entered a new active phase. There haven’t been any serious reported except for a man who broke his leg after being hit by flying lava.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.