Hawaii island photographer Jeremiah Osuna captured spectacular drone video footage of the Puna lava eruption Thursday, but on Friday the public was banned from trying to get similar shots or views.
The Federal Aviation Administration restricted all nonemergency aircraft flights from a 5-nautical- mile zone around Lower Puna from Friday morning through Sunday night.
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The temporary flight restriction includes drones, and was imposed so that nonessential flights don’t impede or endanger flights by emergency responders that include Hawaii County Fire Department helicopters tracking and assessing eruption activity.
“Basically, we’re trying to keep the lookie-loos, drones, anything that can be a hazard to finding out where the lava is going and where it is breaking out,” said Vic Gustafson, operations chief with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which sought an initial restriction at 7:53 a.m. Friday. “They don’t want to have a conflict.”
An identical restriction was issued by the FAA, which regulates airspace, for the Fire Department at 9:32 a.m.
The restriction covers airspace up to 3,000 feet above sea level.
Bruce Omori, a professional photographer known for his images of volcanic episodes, said he expected the ban but was surprised an exception wasn’t made for professional media work.
“It pretty much shuts down what we’re doing,” he said. “It kinda sucks, man.”
Omori, who was up in a Pacific Helicopters chopper shooting images of the lava Thursday, said he had been documenting activity since the June 27, 2014, eruption where lava flowed 12 miles over land in nearby Pahoa. During that event, he said, he was granted a media waiver for aerial photography after flight restrictions were imposed. A similar request Friday was denied, Omori said.
Anyone who violates a temporary flight restriction and interferes with emergency response operations can face fines, a license suspension and in some cases criminal penalties from the FAA, according to agency spokesman Ian Gregor.
Private and commercial pilots are required to check such bulletins before flying, but for many drone operators there is no good way to communicate this information.
The Hawaii County Police Department on Friday reminded the public that they can confiscate drones in the restricted area, according to an announcement from Hawaii Emergency Management.
Janet Snyder, a Hawaii County spokeswoman, said no reports of problems with unauthorized aircraft in the vicinity of lava activity had been made to the emergency operations center as of early Friday afternoon.
Still, officials know it can be tempting to get a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful and destructive wonder associated with Hawaiian fire goddess Pele. Osuna’s video was used by The Washington Post, The Guardian, CBS News, CNN and other news organizations, including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Temporary flight restrictions are routine during events that include wildfires, air shows and security. In Hawaii there has been a flight restriction with a 3-mile radius around Kilauea caldera for many years, and it was extended in November for 12 months along with a smaller restricted flight zone where lava had poured into the ocean.
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