Photo taken by Matthew Breiter from a helicopter over Hawaii, just around the time he heard a warning about an incoming ballistic missile through his headphones.
(KMSP) - An emergency alert rang out across cell phones in Hawaii on Saturday morning, warning islanders and visitors about an incoming missile attack.
“This is not a drill,” it read.
It wasn't a drill, but it also wasn't real. Even worse, it took 38 minutes to retract the alert. Some on the island never even got the following "all clear" message.
It was triggered by an emergency management worker, who accidentally approved a computer prompt during a shift change. The mistaken click caused widespread panic that reached all the way to Minnesota.
"My initial reaction was, ‘what?’” Melissa Bumanglag told Fox 9, after she received a startling text from her parents in Oahu. The text said they received an alert that a ballistic missile was headed their way.
Nearly 40 minutes would pass before they learned that it was a false alarm, allowing Bumanglag to breathe a sigh of relief.
Even though it was a scary mistake, she’s glad it ended the way it did.
“If it actually happened, I wouldn’t have known and my family could have been dead,” she said. “And that would have hurt a lot more.”
Officials in Hawaii blame the mess on human error. In a press conference, they said that someone within the emergency management agency hit the wrong button. In order to release the alert, two clicks were necessary. The first would trigger a prompt, and the second would approve the action, sending the alert.
One man from Long Prairie, Minn. was in Hawaii taking an island tour in a helicopter when the alert came out.
“We had the headphones on, and I was sitting right next to the pilot,” said Matthew Breiter. “When suddenly I hear, ‘ballistic missile inbound for Hawaii, take shelter immediately, this is not a drill,’ in the headphones.”
With missile threats coming from North Korea, he thought the alert was real.
“I was just in awe, and just shocked that this is happening,” Breiter told Fox 9. “A part of me was wondering, ‘am I going to see a missile shoot out of the sky from a helicopter?’”
Hawaii officials have repeatedly apologized for the mishap. The islands had not seen an alert of this kind since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“This was an unfortunate incident,” said Governor David Ige during a press conference on Saturday. “We learned a few lessons about how we need to improve the communications.”
Back in Minnesota, Bumanglag is just thankful her loved ones are safe.
“My family is fine, and that’s all I really care about.”
Despite initial concerns, Breiter said he had no plans on cutting his vacation short.
Meantime, officials in Hawaii said they are working to ensure that what happened today never happens again. Already today they said they implemented a new system that would require two people to “ok” the alert, not one.