After 'lava bomb' hit him, Big Island man feared for his life

Published: May. 19, 2018 at 10:10 PM HST|Updated: May. 22, 2018 at 5:11 PM HST
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PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - It happened in an instant.

One minute, Darryl Clinton was on the phone with a friend, watching the spectacle of ongoing eruptions in lower Puna from a third floor lanai.

The next, he'd been hit on the leg with a "lava bomb" — his left foot nearly detached and miles away from medical help.

"It threw me against the wall like the worst impact I've ever had in my life, just so much force," he said Tuesday, in his first interview with reporters since getting injured last weekend. "I landed on a sofa chair that was on fire from the lava exploding ... and then my foot fell off my leg so it was like a hinge."

Clinton lives at the property, which belongs to a friend.

He was trying to prevent lava bombs like the one that nearly killed him from starting a fire that would take down the home.

And, he admits, he was there to see the ongoing eruptions up close.

"I was basically just trying to save the structures and enjoy the beautiful events of the lava, a front row seat," he said.

And things had gotten dicey a few times.

Clinton said the sound of eruptions were as loud as a jet engine, roaring day and night. "There was one mean, angry vent, the farthest one away that was throwing the most rock," he said, from his hospital bed. "It made the most horrible noises you can imagine."

And lava bombs were raining down regularly, starting little fires on the property that Clinton or his friends would put out.

But on Saturday morning, the day he was injured, things seemed to have quieted down a bit. Fiery hot rocks weren't being spit out very often. The eruptions seemed to have slowed.

And just as he let down his guard, that's when it happened — and Clinton's life narrowed to excruciating pain and a realization that he needed help fast.

Clinton is the first and only person to be seriously injured in ongoing eruptions that started nearly three weeks ago.

Authorities say the case underscores the real danger of active fissures, which are creating lava flows, sending fountains of lava more than 150 feet in the air and spitting out molten rock.

Clinton said what made the lava bomb that hit him different was that it didn't seem to arc up and then fall down.

"It was a direct line drive as if it came out of a rifle barrel," he said. "It was the most forceful impact I've ever had on my body in my life. I've been hit by big waves and various things, and that was just incredibly powerful and hot."

After Clinton was hit, a friend who was also at the home rushed to his side.

"I was like, 'You gotta get me out, get us out of here,'" he said. "I thought I was going to bleed to death."

So she grabbed Clinton by his good leg, dragged him down the stairs to the ground level and tucked him into her truck. They met up with firefighters in Pahoa, and first responders whisked him to a hospital.

The damage to Clinton's lower left leg was intense: Bones in his leg and foot had been shattered, large chunks of tissue were missing, rock was embedded in his skin.

But Clinton is happy to say he's on the mend. In six weeks, he'll be able to put weight on his left leg again.

"The doctors did an amazing job. I can't believe they could put it back together. I just wanted to live. I didn't care if they cut my leg off down there or not," he said.

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