Kilauea Update: Basketball-Sized Lava Bomb Hurled at Boat Leaves 23 Injured

Volcanic explosions continue to rupture around Hawaii's Big Island.

It seems like the ongoing Kilauea volcano eruptions will never end. Since May 3, the destruction from lava has devastated Hawaii’s Big Island, and on July 17, another force of nature struck an unfortunate group of victims. Passengers on a volcano tour boat at the mouth of Kilauea’s Kapoho ocean entry point were struck by lava bombs. Twenty-three passengers were injured, with at least one severe injury that necessitated a woman being airlifted to the nearest hospital.

Volcanic scientists have issued warnings for weeks that Kilauea’s violent eruptions could launch projectiles like ash and rock. The lava that struck the tour boat, which held 49 passengers, was roughly “basketball-sized,” according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency on Monday. Any size of lava hurtling toward a group on onlookers is horrifying, but it could have been much worse. Rocks the size of refrigerators could be sent flying from the peak of Kilauea as it continues to create new fissures of oozing lava.

What Happened to the Passengers Hit by a Lava Bomb?

The explosion that injured boat passengers resulted from an explosion from one of Kilauea’s many fissures. Those fissures open up when molten rock and the magma table shift underground, disrupting the land on top. The vibrations can also cause earthquakes, many of which have occurred at Kilauea’s peak. But this fissure had actually reached the ocean before it unearthed lava onto onlookers.

Rocks and debris went flying onto the boat along with the basketball-sized lava bomb, and it punctured the roof of the vessel. The woman who was airlifted to nearby Queen’s Medical Center in Oahu is believed to be in her twenties and also reportedly suffered a fractured femur. While the incident investigation is still in the early stages, the US Coast Guard and Hawaii island police are involved.

The tour company may be liable for violating state and potentially even federal law by endangering customers. The tour boat in question, “Hot Shot,” returned to shore at 7 a.m. local time with injured passengers and crew members still onboard. Three other injured people were transported to the hospital via ambulance.

What Is the Status of the Kilauea Volcano Eruption?

Lava has already destroyed 700 homes and businesses, including a popular vacation spot, on the Big Island and displaced thousands of people, some with injuries. At the fissure in Kapoho, a coastal area, a small island has been formed from cooled magma.

Balls of lava are also known as lava boats and lava bergs, and are formed when chunks of lava cool and accumulate on the surface of a fissure or flow. Typically, lava balls will divert the flow, which leads to more damage, but in this case, explosions near the surface of the fissure sent the projectiles flying. This, along with raining green gemstones, tall plumes of ash, and even volcanic screeching have contributed to the natural wonders and subsequent disasters associated with Kilauea.