Enchantment turned to “terror” Monday morning for tourists viewing spectacular lava fountains from Kilauea’s volcanic vents on a sightseeing boat off the Hawaii coastline.
“It was amazing and beautiful until it wasn’t,” passenger Will Bryan of Portland, Oregon, told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
A “basketball-sized” blob of magma, known as a lava bomb, smashed into the boat’s roof and exploded, showering passengers with molten rock, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency reported on Facebook.
“The explosion looked like a gigantic firework, right off the side of the boat,” passenger Kirk Olsen told CBS News. “It was suddenly bedlam. There was screaming… You’d look on the floor and there were hot lava rocks glowing.”
The blast injured 23 people aboard, mostly with burns and scrapes, reported Hawaii civil defense officials. Four, including a woman with a broken femur, were hospitalized.
“Honestly, it was terror,” Bryan told the Star-Advertiser. “You have 20 feet to hide. You’re just getting shot with lava. There was no safe spot. I got hit in my back, and my girlfriend was hit in the face.”
The boat, named “Hot Shot,” had about 49 passengers on board at the time, reported Hawaii News Now. The U.S. Coast Guard responded to a request for help from the boat about 6 a.m. Monday following the lava bomb strike.
The boat returned to harbor with the injured passengers aboard about 7 a.m., according to the site.
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources officials told the Star-Advertiser that the lava bomb punctured a hole at least 18 inches across through the boat’s metal roof.
Operated by Lava Ocean Tours, the boat had permission to approach within 50 meters of the shore, reported CBS News. Following the lava bomb incident, boats now are required to stay 300 meters offshore.
However, fire officials told the Star-Advertiser that the Hot Shot was about 200 yards, or 182 meters, from shore when it was struck by the lava bomb.
Shane Turpin, the boat’s owner and captain, told The Associated Press he had just turned back out to sea after about 20 minutes observing the lava flows.
“All of a sudden everything around us exploded,” he said. “It was everywhere.”
Ken Rubin, professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told the Star-Advertiser that small steam-driven explosions of magma near the ocean’s edge can hurl bombs of both molten and not-molten lava.
Kilauea began erupting in May, pouring lava from fissures and vents and destroying more than 700 homes.