Our trip to Hawaii coincided with the lower Puna eruption on the eastern side of Kilauea rift zone. The area had not experienced a volcanic event since the 1960s and several housing communities had been constructed including Leilani Estates and Vacationland. Fortunately the lower Puna eruption caused no fatalities but it did cause dozens of injuries and $800 million in damages to the area.
We first tried to approach Fissure 8, the most active volcanic area, on foot but the National Guard was deployed to prevent access and we were stopped at the 130 to 132 intersection (19.491535, -154.940722). Even from a distance we were close enough to see the billowing gases and the unearthly red glow filling the sky. This picture was taken from Pahoa High & Intermediate School.
With our interest piqued in learning more about the active fissues, we did some research and discovered that helicopter tours were the only way to get a closer view. The Hilo airport helicopter tours are usually focused on the local waterfalls and rainforest, but they had been suspended due to poor visibility and risk of flying into volcanic plumes. As it happened the tours had re-opened the day before and we were able to book a last-minute 7AM flight.
During our flight we gazed into the roiling caldera of Fissure 8, inspected the various stages of the lava river flowing from the fissure and marveled at the steam plumes formed where the lava reaches the sea. No photos can capture the experience but here’s my best attempt!