Tour guide dies after group overcome by noxious steam cloud near lava flow


A well-known local tour guide and photographer died on Hawaii island when his tour group was overcome by a noxious steam cloud.

It happened at around 8 a.m. Thursday at the lava viewing area on Chain of Craters Road in Kalapana, near the Royal Gardens subdivision.

Close friends identified the tour guide as Sean King, owner of Hawaii Stargazing Adventures.

They describe him as an avid hiker who had a great passion for photography and the volcano.

“(Sean was) kind of rough around the edges kind of guy, but such a big heart. I mean, everybody loves Sean. He was such a good guy,” said friend Bruce Omori, who is a fellow photographer and videographer. “I think all of the photographers who shoot lava have this camaraderie, and we share a bond that I think is kind of difficult to describe, because we’re out there and shooting in potentially hazardous conditions, so we all respect each other’s talents and passion for Kilauea and shooting lava.”

According to the Hawaii Fire Department, four people were on a guided hiking tour near the lava flow when it began to rain.

Officials say the rain created a noxious steam cloud that affected their vision and breathing.

“The conditions today, I mean they were horrible. It was dumping so much rain out there. There was a stationary cell that was directly over the flow field, and it was really heavy,” said Omori, who had flown over the area that morning. “We’re shooting that and I’ve never gotten so wet in the helicopter, because it was raining so hard. It was raining so hard that we couldn’t venture any further, because we normally fly the entire length of the flow field, but it was impossible. So much rain was coming down.”

An HFD helicopter found King unresponsive and airlifted him to a waiting ambulance crew, where he was pronounced dead.

Three other hikers managed to escape, and were treated for minor injuries.

Friends say they’re shocked by what happened, because they say King knew the volcano and lava field better than anyone.

“There are certain people in the industry that everybody looks to as a leader, and as someone that they all love and respect, and Sean King was absolutely the pinnacle of that type of person,” said John Tarson, owner of EpicLava. “This is really hard for all of us to deal with. Sean was a really, really good friend, and this is shocking. Nobody expected this in any way. We’ve all been out there on the flow with him for the last week.

“We always joke about how he’s like a pit bull. Sean just doesn’t go down. He’s like one of the strongest, toughest bastards you’ll ever meet in your life, and he has the heart of that too,” Tarson added. “He didn’t care who you were, or where you were from. He got you.”

King even took a time lapse video of the sunset over Halemaumau crater and shared it with us for our 2015 special, “Kilauea: Facing the Fire.”

“Sean was special, you know? What made his photography amazing was the fact that he’s colorblind,” Omori said.

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