23 injured after lava explodes onto tour boat

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JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A police officer secures the lava boat "Hot Spot" for the arrival of inspectors Monday morning at the Wailoa Small Boat Harbor.
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UPDATED at 12:25 p.m.

A “lava bomb” at the ocean entry in lower Puna injured 23 people aboard a lava tour boat this morning, one seriously.

“It was an explosion, basically,” said Janet Snyder, Mayor Harry Kim’s spokeswoman. “It punctured a hole right through the roof of the boat. … The boat was covered with lava. A woman … had her femur broken.”

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said the woman suffering the femur fracture is 20 years old. The femur, also called the thigh bone, is the body’s largest bone.

Ambulances took the woman and three others to the hospital after the boat returned to Wailoa Small Boat Harbor in Hilo. The woman was reported in serious condition. The others were in stable condition.

According to Snyder, nine of those injured were able to drive themselves to the emergency room. An additional 10 passengers were treated at the harbor for superficial injuries.

Snyder said neither the total number of passengers aboard the boat wasn’t immediately known.

The Fire Department said in a written statement the alarm was received at 6:05 a.m. and seven fire units, seven police units and two units from the Department of Land and Natural Resources met the Lava Ocean Tours boat “Hot Spot” when it arrived at Wailoa.

Shane Turpin, the owner and captain of the vessel that was hit by lava, says he never saw the explosion that rained large chunks of hot rock down on top of his boat.

Turpin says he and his tour group had been in the area for about twenty minutes making passes of the ocean entry about 500 yards offshore.

He didn’t observe any major explosions, so he navigated his vessel closer, to about 250 yards away from the lava.

As they were leaving the area, the explosion came and engulfed the boat from behind, he says.

Turpin said that he has been observing and documenting these explosions that he thinks are new and that there were no warning signs before the blast. Turpin has been navigating lava tour boats for many years and has lived on the Big Island since 1983.

DLNR officers reportedly interviewed 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.

This is a developing story. This story will be updated as the Tribune-Herald learns more details and a full story will appear in Tuesday’s edition.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.