Maui News

UPDATE: Explosion Sends Lava Through Tour Boat Roof, 23 Injured

July 16, 2018, 9:25 AM HST
* Updated July 16, 3:48 PM
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Tour Boat Struck by Lava Explosion (July 16, 2018) Photo Courtesy DLNR

At least 23 people on a tour boat vessel were injured this morning after an explosion sent lava through the roof of the boat’s passenger cabin.

Fire officials say four were transported by medics, nine went to the Hilo Medical Center via personal vehicle and 10 were treated on scene for minor soft tissue injuries, scrapes and burns.

Among the serious injuries was a 20-year-old woman who suffered major leg trauma, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Hawaiʻi County officials say the boat arrived offshore of the Pohoiki Lava entry site about 500 yards offshore, then proceeded to get closer until approximately 200 yards offshore.  The vessel reportedly turned out to sea when the explosion occurred near the shoreline, “hurling hot lava rocks” towards the boat and injuring several passengers.

Crews with the Hawaiʻi Fire and Police Departments and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources met the lava tour boat “Hot Spot” as it docked.  Fire department medic units performed triage on all passengers.


DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “DLNR sends its wishes for full and speedy recovery to all of those involved.”


A Coast Guard investigator from Sector Honolulu is en route to investigate the incident. The safety zone currently stands at 300-meters (984 feet or 328 yards) with no exclusions.

At approximately 6 a.m., Sector Honolulu watchstanders received an initial report from 911, indicating that three crewmembers and three sightseers were injured in an incident that occurred near a lava flow in Kapoho Bay.

The vessel returned to Hilo Harbor where awaiting emergency medical services were on standby to receive the injured. Upon arrival in Hilo, that number was revised to at least a dozen individuals injured that involved treatment at the area hospital.


In response to increased lava activity in the area, the Coast Guard established a temporary safety zone March 2017. That zone was made permanent in May 2018 following a notice of proposed rulemaking. The zone was set with significant input and consultation from experts with the Hawaiʻi Volcano Observatory, US Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and date from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Marine Science Department.

The safety zone surrounds the lava flow and extends out 300-meters, although 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 (164 feet or 54 yards). Tour vessels are known to operate the area going back at least 20 years.

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At least ten people on a Lava Ocean Tours vessel were injured this morning after an explosion sent lava through the roof of the boat’s passenger cabin. Other reports indicate as many as 12 passengers were hurt. Officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement along with the Hawai‘i County Police Dept. are investigating the incident.

The tours depart from the Wailoa Small Boat Harbor in Hilo at 4 a.m. daily. Prior to the beginning of the East Rift Zone Eruption event, tours left from the Pohoiki Boat Ramp, which now is within ½ mile of the active ocean entrance.

DOCARE officers are now in the process of interviewing injured passengers at the Hilo Medical Center. In initial reporting passengers say the vessel was outside of the U.S. Coast Guard-established safety zone. Along with first responders both state and county officers were at the Wailoa ramp when the boat returned after the incident. It’s reported one passenger has a broken leg and the others were burned, though the full extent of their injuries is not known at this time. More information will be released as it becomes available.

*Video Below: Courtesy Ikaika Marzo Facebook page.

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