"Lava Bomb" Tour Boat Victims Sue for Compensation

Kilauea lava field ocean entry (file image courtesy Brilliant Space Hawaii / social media)

By The Maritime Executive 03-01-2019 07:04:59

A group of tourists who were injured when a "lava bomb" struck their tour boat off Hawaii's Big Island are suing the vessel's operator, Lava Ocean Tours Inc. 

On July 16, 2018, the tour boat Hot Spot was operating in Kapoho Bay, near the ocean entry point for lava flows from Kilauea. The volcano was in a high-activity phase, and the vessel ventured close enough to the flow to be struck by a large piece of flying molten lava. The incident resulted in injuries for 23 people on board. 

The plaintiffs, Erin Walsh, William Bryan Jr., Dawn Li, Christopher Li, Dr. Ka Ming Li and Erica Li are seeking compensation for a combination of physical and emotional damages. They allege that the captain of the Hot Spot, Shane Turpin, went too close to the lava flow and didn't adequately warn his customers of the risks. 

The suit is the second filed in connection with the accident: another victim, passenger Jessica Tilton, 20, filed for damages last month. Tilton sustained fractured bones in her leg and her pelvis when she was struck by rock from the lava bomb. 

In 2017, the Coast Guard placed a safety zone extending 300 yards out from the entry point of the lava flow. According to the USCG, localized risks at the ocean entry include hot water scalding, steam explosions, flying lava, collapsing cliff fronts and an unusual form of marine weather - "lava haze," or "laze," a corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid gas, steam and fine glass particles.

However, after protests from tour operators, licensed captains with experience in the region were given special permission to approach up to 50 meters. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never seen any incident at the ocean entry on the boat,” tour operator Steve Tarpin told Hawaii Tribune-Herald in 2017. “Three hundred yards is too far to experience the lava in the fashion we would like to show it.” In a separate interview, he added that the usual distance was in the range of 100 feet.