Investigation underway after lava bomb injures 23 on tour boat


Twenty-three people on a Lava Ocean Tours vessel were injured Monday morning after what’s being described as a “lava bomb” hurled molten lava onto and through the metal roof of the boat.

It happened at around 6:05 a.m.

The boat returned to Wailoa Boat Harbor in Hilo, where it was met by emergency medical personnel, first responders, and state and county officers.

A Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman said doctors treated a total of 13 people. Nine drove themselves while four came by ambulance.

While most were treated for minimal burns and abrasions, one person was flown to Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu in serious condition, Cabatu said. That patient is a 20-year-old woman who suffered a leg injury, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Hawaii Fire Department says 10 more were treated at the scene for minor soft tissue injuries and burns.

“Hilo Medical Center was at the ready when we got the call. We were able to keep our night shift crew on to help the day shift with the influx of 13 patients,” said Elena Cabatu, Hilo Medical Center.

“In total, we had about 45 staff in our ED to assist with this trauma activation that included staff from administrative leaders, emergency department, imaging, lab, trauma program manager, and a team of emergency physicians, trauma surgeons, orthopedic surgeon, and an anesthesiologist. Incident command was set up in our emergency department to coordinate patient care,” she added.

The incident is now under investigation by DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Hawaii Police Department.

“I want to stress that at this time, this investigation is in the very early stages and therefore we’ll have no comment to make as far as what the investigation is looking like, or any of the findings thus far,” said Jason Redulla, DOCARE assistant enforcement chief.

Anyone conducting commercial ocean tours of the active ocean entry at Kapoho is required to have a commercial-use permit from DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR). 

Right now, four companies have this permit, including Lava Ocean Tours, Redulla said.

The U.S. Coast Guard established a permanent safety zone which extends 300 meters (roughly 328 yards) around all ocean-entry points. It’s unclear if the boat was in this zone at the time of the explosion, Redulla said.

The company also has permission to use Wailoa harbor as its base of operation, after voluntarily relocating from the Pohoiki boat ramp, which is about a half-mile from the current active ocean entry.

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