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New Year’s Eve Delta Collapse Causes Temporary Closure at Kamokuna Ocean Entry

A large section of the 26-acre lava delta formed by the 61g lava flow collapsed into the ocean around 2:45 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, launching showers of volcanic rock into the air, and creating a flurry of large waves that eroded away a portion of the older sea cliff and viewing area.

As a result, the Kamokuna ocean entry within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will remain closed today as park rangers and USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists survey the area. Rangers on duty New Year’s Day reported that the former viewing area is gone, and that loud cracks continue to be heard throughout the unstable area.

Although park rangers temporarily closed the Kamokuna lava viewing area last night, five visitors ducked beneath the white rope closure line and made a beeline for the coastal cliffs around 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Eruption Crew Ranger Travis Delimont and a co-worker had to chase after them before they turned around.  Within 15 minutes, the section of cliff where the visitors were standing crashed into the ocean.

“It was a really close brush with death for them,” Ranger Delimont said. “Luckily, they finally listened to us and turned around in time,” he said.

The lava viewing area will remain closed until it is determined safe to reopen. The County of Hawai‘i also closed the Kalapana access to the park.

“Fortunately, there were no aircraft or boats reported in the area at the time of the collapse, nor were any visitors on the delta itself, which is closed for public safety,” said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. “Had anyone been close by on land, water or air, lives would have surely been lost,” she said.

There is a temporary flight restriction of 1,000 feet above ground level at the Kamokuna ocean entry.

Lava deltas are extremely hazardous volcanic features and are formed when lava enters the ocean and builds new land on loose and unstable substrate. In addition to the threat of collapse, lava entering the ocean produces a highly a corrosive plume of hydrochloric acid and volcanic particles that irritate the lungs, skin and eyes. Visitors are strongly urged to stay out of closed areas and heed all posted warning signs.

Feature Commentary: A ship, a crew, the sea and a $7 billion fishery

U.S. Coast Guard photos and story by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers

The sea and sky are dark. One fades into the other. The bright deck lights of a foreign fishing boat are the only horizon reference. Roughly 70-feet in length, at two miles away, the boat appears as a dot. “Set LE Phase 1,” rings out over the 1MC, the ship’s on board intercom system.
I’m aboard the mighty warship Sequoia, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Apra Harbor, Guam – America’s westernmost territory. Out in the Philippine Sea, standing on the buoy deck I can feel the ship roll gently under my feet as we transit toward the fishing boat.
It’s 2000 hours, the sun has long since set, but I can still feel residual heat from the metal decks and bulkheads of the ship radiate up at me. The moist sea air wraps around me in a wet bear hug and I can feel my body armor secured over my t-shirt cling to me. Droplets of sweat escape from my hairline under my helmet. We’ve been over the plan, briefed the evolution, attempted to hail the vessel master in Mandarin and English, done our risk analysis to assess complexity and overall safety and now it’s time to go.

The sound of the water is interrupted by the unmistakable mechanical hums and chirps of outboard engines. The cutter’s small boat, piloted by a boatswain’s mate, comes alongside the buoy deck prepared to take us aboard and transport us to the fishing boat.

One by one the boarding team goes over the side: four Coast Guard members and an Australian Fisheries Management Authority officer; Lydia Woodhouse. The ship is running nearly dark. A faint red glow can be seen on the bridge. The running lights of the small boat wink at me red and green. It’s my turn. Senior Chief Petty Officer Ryan Petty, who runs the deck force, stands next to the Jacob’s ladder. A flashlight in his hand with a red lens lights the flat orange rungs of the ladder as they knock against the black hull and leads to the water and the small boat more than 10 feet below.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brett Malone, a damage controlman and boarding team member, part of a joint boarding team from the buoy tender USCGC Sequoia (WLB-215) commence a horseshoe around the longline fishing vessel Chi Chih Ching No. 21 to conduct boarding in the Palau exclusive economic zone Sept. 5, 2016. The boardings were conducted under a U.S. Coast Guard and Palau bilateral agreement with additional support from the Marine Forces Pacific and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

I step gingerly onto a bitt on Sequoia’s deck just below the gunwale, adjacent to where the ladder is secured. I heave myself over the side and onto the ladder, a vice-like grip on the top of the gunwale. “Snaps, over the side!” calls Petty into his radio up to the bridge. The small boat rises and falls with the swell beneath my feet. Nearly to the bottom, the boat drops just as I let go of the ladder. The hand of a boat crewman and engineer, Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Peterson, grabs the loop of my backpack. “Snaps in the boat,” calls Petty.
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