Friends and social media are mourning the loss of locally well-known Hawaii-based photographer and tour guide Sean King. He died early Thursday morning on the lava fields of the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island. King and I were Facebook friends and our paths crossed once while doing photography on the summit of Mauna Kea. He was the stereotypical New Yorker, tough but with a huge heart.
Thursday evening, my Facebook feed filled up with posts about King's passing. There’s no doubting that he was loved and respected by those on the island and by photographers from the mainland as well.
Apparently, King was leading a group of three tourists/photographers onto the Kalapana Flow when a heavy, stationary rainfall developed over the area. While a cause hasn’t been released, it is suspected by authorities that noxious gases released through the interaction of the rain water with lava. According to the United States Geological Survey website, volcanoes produce a number of gases including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen halides that, depending on concentrations, range from irritating to lethal. Having spent a number of days and nights on the lava flow myself, I can attest to the extremely dangerous nature of not only the lava itself, but the razor-sharp rocks and the stifling fumes.
King was a fixture out on the lava flows and was well aware of the challenges of doing photography in such a formidable environment. In fact, the New York Daily News ran an expose of him in 2013 where he talked about the risk of the lava and the poisonous fumes. Flickr also did a piece in “The Weekly Flickr” on King back in 2013 where you can hear him tell his photography story firsthand.
King's passing is an unbelievably sad event and an unthinkable loss for his family, friends, and the island community. Please enjoy doing photography and always remember to be safe out there.
Lead Image used with permission of Ken Boyer. Facebook post used with permission of Tom Kualiʻi.