No-fly-zone in place over Big Island homes threatened by lava

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KALAPANA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There's a no-fly zone over Kalapana, which means tour choppers must keep their distance.

The feds have stepped in to protect Big Island families living near the fresh lava.

Kalapana has been overwhelmed with air traffic, from curious visitors who want a bird's eye view of Pele's latest show.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has implemented a flight restriction, which means air tour operators can't get their customers as close to the lava.

"Business has been phenomenal. Last month was one of our best months ever, and we've been in business since 1987," said Stephanie Mitchell, a manager at Safari Helicopters Hawaii.

Big Island Civil Defense says, in the past week, the lava has attracted an average of 2,000 visitors a day to the remote coastline south of Kilauea.

But the tourism buzz has caused too much noise and danger above Kalapana Gardens.

"There were reports of, and actually I've seen it, low-flying helicopters over the subdivision trying to get a view of the lava," said Quince Mento, the spokesperson for Big Island Civil Defense.

So low, the FAA has put in a no-fly-zone around the subdivision.

"The restricted area is only a half mile in radius and it only goes up to 1500 feet," said Ian Gregor, a spokesperson for FAA.

Gregor says the safety buffer has minimal impact to air tour operators. They can still fly freely off the coastline, but companies say the view isn't as close.

"It's a mile and a half stand off distance going around the homes," said Mitchell.

The tension isn't just in the air. With so many visitors trampling through the private neighborhood, last week police met with families to outline the county's trespassing rules.

"Somebody approaches you, tell them, 'you know what, this is private property', an officer told Kalapana residents.

Back in the air, it's too early to tell if the flight restriction will impact business.

"We were sold out today, we're almost sold out for tomorrow,"said Mitchell.

Even if it does, Mitchell says they understand.

"It's also a very personal matter for folks, you know, their homes are being destroyed and it's a very emotional situation and I'm certain that if it were me I wouldn't want to be on the ground watching a helicopter full of tourists taking photographs of my house being burned," said Mitchell.

Just last week, the fresh lava devoured one Kalapana home. Mento says three other homes are in the lava's path, but the flow has stalled. It remains the same distance as on Saturday, between 130 to 200 feet.

Lava photo source: USGS

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