The Hawaii Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is helping U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists keep track of the lava flows from Mauna Loa. The volcano, located on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted on November 28.
CAP flew two flights Monday—one at daybreak and a second in the late afternoon, according to CAP Hawaii Wing Commander Colonel Stacy Haruguchi.
The first flight, piloted by 1st Lt. John Bassett, took off at 6:45 a.m. from Hilo International Airport (PHTO) accompanied by a volcanologist and CAP photographer 1st Lt. Susan Bassett. The aircraft overflew the Mauna Loa summit and the North East Rift Zone.
A second flight—also piloted by Lt. John Bassett—launched at 4:42 p.m. Also onboard were 2nd Lt. Jason Dzurizin, aerial photographer, and 1st Lt. Jason Ozbolt, mission observer. The purpose of the flight was to gather photos and video as the aircraft circled around the Northeast and Southwest Rift Zones.
The images collected are assisting the USGS in monitoring the lava flows with regard to possible danger to downslope communities. There is concern that if the lava flow continues it may block Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, which is a main east-west road that goes across Hawaii Island.
“No flights were requested for Tuesday and Wednesday, in part due to how close the lava flow is to the highway, which allows scientists and other observers to closely monitor,” Haruguchi told FLYING. “We are monitoring the request channels as well as daily coordination meetings between Hawaii County, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and USGS, for additional tasking and are currently on standby should the need arise.”
According to Haruguchi, flying in the vicinity of an active volcano is more challenging than regular mountain flying as the aircraft must stay well clear of the ash and smoke plume as well as possible flying lava. The hazards are not always clearly visible, even with weather overlays on ForeFlight, ADS-B or via normal FAA webpages, he said.
“Another hazard is the presence of sUAS [small unmanned aerial system] being flown in the area that will not show on ADS-B,” he continued. “Although sUAS are not supposed to be flown in national parks without authorization, are not supposed to be flying above 400 feet agl without authorization, and are supposed to land/stay out of the way of manned aircraft, this is not always the case. Even if the sUAS stay outside the TFR, they are still a potential fence line like obstacle for helicopters transporting emergency personnel into and out of the TFR.”