Fifty-two people were aboard Lava Ocean Tours’ Hot Spot vessel to catch an early morning glimpse of lava.
The tour started at 4 a.m. and took off from Pohoiki Boat Ramp to the active ocean entrance, located about half a mile away.
Will Bryan and his girlfriend, Erin Walsh, were visiting from Portland and said the view of lava entering the ocean was surreal.
“Everyone oohed and awed and almost dared the captain to get closer. So with every pass, we would get a little closer,” said Bryan.
What happened next surprised everyone.
“I didn’t even believe that this was coming towards us. We’d been watching it. It was so beautiful. Then it’s like, oh my God,” said Walsh.
Bryan was using his cell phone to capture video when it caught the beginning of molten lava spewing into the air. It hurled a lava bomb the size of a basketball through the boat’s roof and into the passenger cabin.
The passengers screamed and scrambled for safety.
“There’s nowhere to go. You’re on a boat that’s so big. You’re just getting pelted. There’s no safe spot on the boat. You’re just getting hammered wherever you’re at,” said Bryan.
“Everyone’s trying to escape, so I just went to the middle of the walkway aisle, dropped to the ground, and was just covered in lava. It was crazy,” added Walsh.
They say the ordeal lasted about 15 seconds.
“Afterwards, the first thing that happened was the captain (Shane Turpin) was busy trying to get that big piece of lava off the boat. It was still hot,” said Bryan.
One woman was flown to Oahu with a broken femur. A surgeon was on the boat to assist the woman.
“There was a surgeon. We tried to get her set up because she was in between the aisle seat and the aisle,” said Bryan.
Officials say a total of 23 people on board suffered injuries. Multiple people, including Bryan and Walsh, were treated at nearby hospitals on Hawaii island.
“We both got some pretty superficial scrapes. I got a burn on my ankle. She got a lot of the debris in her eyes,” said Bryan.
The couple said it took Turpin about two hours to get to the Wailoa Sampan Basin and Boat Harbor in Hilo, where emergency responders were waiting. The boat returned at around 7 a.m.
“I was controlling my bleeding, so it was like a waiting game. Just a lot of worrying, really,” Bryan said. “She was looking at me and could tell we were worried about each other, but we couldn’t talk.”
The couple will head to Portland in a few days. Both are grateful it wasn’t worse.
“Most people say they went to Hawaii and saw a sunset. We go home and say we got attacked by lava,” said Bryan.