A passing rain shower on Hawaii’s Big Island turned toxic, killing one man and injuring three others caught in the unfortunate albeit natural phenomena. Rain falling on a lava flow in the Kalapana lava viewing area Thursday morning created a noxious, toxic steam cloud. According to the Hawaii County Fire Department, a deadly cloud caused when water interacts with lava overcame four people hiking on a guided tour. The phenomena known as “laze” impacted the visibility and breathing of those caught in it. While three managed to escape the worst impacts from the toxic cloud, the tour guide, famed photographer Sean King, was not as lucky. The owner and manager of Hawaii Stargazing Adventures was pronounced dead after being airlifted by a county helicopter to a waiting ambulance crew.
In a statement, the Hawaii County Fire Department said, “The guide succumbed to the noxious effects of the cloud, while the other three (3) people escaped. The first unit on scene was Chopper 1 and they located the three (3) people in a safe location. Chopper 1 found the tour guide unresponsive in another location. He was air lifted to an awaiting ambulance crew. After physical examination, it was determined that the victim was deceased. Chopper 1 and Chopper 2 airlifted the three (3) other people to safety; they sustained minor injuries and denied any further EMS services.”
King was well known for his stunning nature photography. His Facebook page features his last public photo of the Super Blood Blue Moon which provided a reddish total lunar eclipse experience for those in Hawaii. When he wasn’t photographing the lava, he was busy photographing the sky and the stars in Hawaii’s sky. Free from most pollution, including light pollution that plagues the US mainland, King took advantage of the incredible scenery on Hawaii to build an impressive portfolio.
In 2017, Weatherboy traveled with tour guides to explore, photograph, and video the dangerous clouds that form on Hawaii’s volcanic Big Island. People have died in the past on Hawaii by succumbing to fumes created on the coast where the lava enters the ocean. As this new tragedy shows, something as innocent as rain water can have the same deadly impact when it encounters lava. Signs around the lava viewing area inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park warn about the dangers of breathing volcanic fumes, particularly if one has a history of respiratory or heart problems, or if one is pregnant or elderly.