‘We let you down’: Commander explains cause of fuel spill atop Haleakala

The military says a powerful storm likely triggered a fuel spill at Haleakala one week ago.
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 7:38 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2023 at 5:33 AM HST
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HALEAKALA (HawaiiNewsNow) - The military says a powerful storm likely triggered a fuel spill at Haleakala one week ago.

Military officials spoke publicly about the incident for the first time in a press conference on Monday.

Approximately 700 gallons of diesel fuel spilled at the summit of Haleakala on Jan. 29.

At Monday’s press conference, the U.S. Space Force’s Indo-Pacific Commander apologized to the public at the Maui Space Force Surveillance Complex.

“We have a solemn responsibility to protect this sacred ground upon which we have the privilege to operate — and it is a privilege, not a right,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir. “You expect more from us and last week we let you down… and for that, I am truly sorry.”

Mastalir said a lightning storm last week caused a power surge, which damaged a float within a generator’s main fuel tank, which ultimately caused the spill.

“Last weekend, it was pretty inhospitable weather here on the summit... severe rain, high winds, numerous, numerous lightning strikes,” Mastalir described.

“So, all of that contributed to, as we go through this analysis, and we look at the evidence, it all contributes to this conclusion that a power surge is likely what caused the damage to this float.”


He said at this time, it is impossible to know exactly how deep the fuel saturated the soil.

“Right now, it’s impossible to know exactly how deep we will have to go,” Mastalir said.

Mastalir said the generator is still being used, but cautiously.

“The generator is still being used. However, we are actuating the transfer pump manually. So, we are not allowing that transfer pump to operate unless somebody is standing right next to it.”

Mastalir said they promise to work with the community and Native Hawaiians who consider Haleakala a very sacred place.

“We’re going to look at a number of modifications to improve our ability to contain a potential spill, and we’re going to continue to look through and better understand exactly why this equipment failed in such a catastrophic way, as opposed to failing in a safe way, which is why which is the way it was designed,” he said.

The U.S. Space Force vows full transparency throughout the entire process.

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