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Flying above red hot lava

By on June 27, 2018 in Travel with 0 Comments

A government chartered plane flies approximately 500 feet below Marshall’s chartered helicopter in close proximity to the active No. 8 Fissure spewing lava upwards of 250 feet. The Federal Aviation Administration put a Temporary Flight Restriction in place that restricts all non-emergency and non-government aircraft to 3,000 feet above ground level. Photos by Marshall R. Mahler















Landscape and wildlife photographer Marshall R. Mahler recently traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii to capture fine art images of the current eruption of the Kilauea Volcano.

Marshall set out on his journey with a goal of photographing the lava eruption via land, sea, and air.

His attempt of photographing from land proved to be a challenge and eventually unsuccessful due to the closure and mandatory evacuations of many sections of the Lower East Rift Zone by local and state authorities.

A lava flow enters the Pacific Ocean creating hydrochloric acid steam called Laze as the lava interacts with the salt water. Extreme temperatures from the lava flow (2,200 F) causes the sea water to break down into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen combines with chlorine ions dissolved in the sea water forming hydrogen chloride gas (hydrochloric acid). This rising column of steam can also carry tiny volcanic glass shards.

Phase two of the plan involved taking an open ocean boat (at the pre-dawn hour of 4 a.m.) from Hilo around Cape Kumukahi to the ocean entry zone where lava flows directly into the sea.

He found moderate success there with one active flow.

“Phase three proved the most successful, but involved taking images out of an open door of a chartered helicopter at the cool rate of $1,674 per hour,” he said.

Marshall and his pilot were able to fly directly above Fissure No. 8 and the lava river to capture images.

Fissure No. 8 erupts with lava spewing 200 – 250 feet out of the ground forming a lava river that flows approximately 8 miles out to the Pacific Ocean. Just downhill from the fissure, the lava river has been clocked at an amazing 15 mph. Taken from an open door of a helicopter at 3,000 feet above the lava flow.

“Photographing an active volcano comes with a certain set of challenges such as the constant vibration of the helicopter itself and avoiding photographing through the heat waves produced by the lava,” Marshall said.

Piloting above an active volcano comes with challenges as well, such as avoiding the uprising thermals and staying clear of the ever changing volcanic steam and ash cloud.

“Even at 3,000 feet above the actively erupting fissure, I could feel the intense heat rising off the lava,” he said.

The eruption started on May 3 when several fissures opened up in the Leilani Estates subdivision south of Hilo and started spewing out lava.

In all, 24 fissures opened up. Fissure No. 8 has been the most active and has created a lava river that has reached the sea at Kapoho Bay. Kapoho Bay no longer exists as the lava flow completely filled in the bay and beyond.

Thus far, some 500 homes have been destroyed and residents from many more homes have been evacuated.



Puna Geothermal Venture is a geothermal energy conversion plant shut down and partially destroyed by lava flows surrounding the plant.

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