A 20-year-old Illinois tourist who was hit by a lava bomb while on a tour boat near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano said Tuesday she thought the vessel was getting dangerously close before an explosion sent debris flying through the roof.
Jessica Tilton has been hospitalized since July 16, when a boulder of lava about two feet in diameter hit her, breaking her thigh bone and pelvis and leaving her with other injuries. There were 23 others on the Lava Ocean Tours vessel who sustained minor burns and scrapes, but Tilton suffered the most serious injuries.
"Everything just went black and you didn't see anything," she told KHON2 from her hospital bed. "You just felt like you were suffocating and I thought I was dying."
Tilton, who was sitting closest to the railing on the ship, said she leaned over to protect her sister when the lava rock hit her.
"I kept screaming, 'My leg!' because my leg hurt," she told KHON. "I heard the captain saying, 'Is anyone hurt?' And my dad was saying, 'My daughter, my daughter!'''
Tilton, a student at Bradley University in Illinois, said it look over an hour to get back to shore, which she said felt like "forever."
"It was the worst pain I've ever felt. I was just so concerned that maybe these were going to be my last moments with my family," she said on Tuesday.
Tilton and her family went on the lava tour on the second to last day of a Hawaiian vacation celebrating her parents' 25th wedding anniversary. Her mother, who gets seasick, stayed ashore.
"Everything just went black and you didn't see anything. You just felt like you were suffocating and I thought I was dying."
Her father, Rob, told KHON that two surgeons that were sightseeing on the boat came to his daughter's aid
"There was a French surgeon who left his own sons that were injured," he told KHON.
Tilton has to take a leave of absence from the fall semester of her junior year at college. As a contemporary and lyrical jazz dancer, she is hoping she can fully heal and return to a normal life.
"It's getting there, it's a challenge every day, but you know, just using a lot of hope, just the goal of returning to normal life," she told KHON.
Shane Turpin, owner and captain of the vessel involved in the episode, has previously told The Associated Press he never saw the explosion that rained molten rock across his boat. Turpin said the tour group had been in the area for about 20 minutes, making passes by lava from as it entered the ocean about 500 yards offshore, Turpin said.
He didn't observe "any major explosions," so he navigated his vessel closer, to about 250 yards from the lava.
Tilton said she raised concerns about how close the boat was getting, right before everything happened.
"It was too close for comfort for me personally," Tilton said.
Officials have warned of the danger of getting close to molten rock oozing into the sea, saying the interaction of the lava and seawater can create clouds of acid and fine glass. And whenever hot lava enters much cooler ocean waters, there is also the potential for large explosions. Despite the hazards, several companies operate such tours.
The Coast Guard prohibits vessels from getting closer than 984 feet from lava entering the ocean. The agency had been allowing experienced boat operators to apply for a special license to get closer, up to 164 feet, but stopped allowing those exceptions after the explosion last month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.