I assumed I was going die: Passenger recounts moment lava hit Hawaii tour boat

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A passenger on a tour boat that was struck by lava off Hawaii’s Big Island said he shielded his girlfriend and waited for death as searing debris came ripping through the catamaran’s roof.

“I remember getting hit with the lava in my back and just waiting for the heat,” said Will Bryan, a 38-year-old paramedic who was on holiday in Hawaii.

“I just assumed that whatever hit me was lava and I was going to burn and die.”

Tourism boat
An explosion caused by lava oozing into the ocean sent molten rock crashing through the roof of a tourism boat (John Burnett/Hawaii Tribune-Herald via AP)

She said she was so traumatised she could not be around a clothes dryer because the sound reminded her of the cacophony of lava that struck the boat.

“It’s getting better each day, but I definitely feel like I’m kind of suffering from some PTSD,” she said.

She added that she is still having trouble being alone in the dark.

The two were on a 49-passenger sight-seeing boat that takes people to see lava from the Kilauea volcano entering the sea.

The volcano, which has been active for decades, began its latest eruption on May 3 and has destroyed more than 700 homes since.

The volcano’s magnificent illuminations lived up to the tourists’ expectations, at least at the beginning.

Graphic locates Kilauea volcano on Hawaii
(PA Graphics)

But that changed as the boat got closer.

“You can hear the oohs and aahs stopping. Everyone started to get nervous,” he said.

The vessel made several passes in front of the plume, getting closer each time. Mr Bryan said “mob mentality” prevented him and others from speaking up about their fears of getting too close.

“This stuff was magical and exciting, and no one was saying a word,” he said.

Mr Bryan was sitting on the side of the boat closest to the explosion when it happened and captured the event on video. The footage shows the lava blasting from the ocean and the sounds of rocks and debris pinging off the metal boat as people screamed.

When the blast happened, Mr Bryan stood up and turned his back to the lava and shielded Ms Walsh.

The debris “pelted” his back, but only burned the top layers of his clothing, the lava never contacting his flesh.

He did have burns on his foot and lacerations up and down his legs, and Ms Walsh also had cuts and burns on her legs and arms. She also said debris got into her eyes.

“Every time (the lava) hit a person… as it bounced off their skin or flesh, you could hear it,” Mr Bryan said, describing the sound as a “soft thud”.

The smoke and debris engulfed the boat, Mr Bryan said, and everything went black.

“There was nowhere to hide on that boat, it’s so small, and it was coming from above us and it was coming from the side of us, there was nowhere to go,” he said of people scrambling for safety.

Seconds after the initial blast, the large chunk of molten rock crashed through the roof.

“You can see in my video, there’s like a flash of orange light and that’s when that rock went through the roof,” Mr Bryan said. “I just remember worrying, ‘There’s going to be another one that’s going to hit us’.”

Then it stopped. Minutes after the explosion the captain took a jacket and dragged the basketball-sized chunk of still glowing lava rock off the boat, Mr Bryan said.

Mr Bryan and a doctor stabilised a woman who suffered a fractured leg, the most serious injury of those aboard. The other 22 people injured were treated for minor burns and scrapes, including 12 who were treated at a hospital.

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