Former Prime Minister Sir John Key was among the people who were startled by a mobile alert this morning about an incoming ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.

The message, which was written all in capitals, was received at 8am local time and read: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

The alert, sent out by Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, was an error and officials cancelled it nearly 40 minutes after it was issued.

Panic spread through Hawaii after the alert was accidentally sent out. Photo / Twitter
Panic spread through Hawaii after the alert was accidentally sent out. Photo / Twitter

Sir John said the alert did not send him or his wife Bronagh into a panic.


"We are on the island of Lanai. We got the alert and, while it was a little disconcerting, it was well handled by the hotel we are staying at.

"A lot of the guests went to the lobby. There was a mixture of some quite panicked people. But for the most part people were calm."

Other locals and tourists, including Kiwis, believed they had just minutes to find shelter from an incoming missile.

Kiwi Dee Whitby told how there were people in tears, and how she texted her children to say she loved them.

Whitby, who has been in the town of Hilo for an orchid conference, said guests were asked to stay in their room for around 40 minutes.

"There were people crying in the corridors. We stayed calm but texted 'we love you' messages to our children just in case."

At the Waikiki hotel where she has been staying with her girlfriend and her family, Natalie Kane made her way down to the lobby after getting the alarm.

She was told that, if it was real, they would have to take cover, although there was nowhere to find it, so she should return to her hotel room and stay away from the windows.

There were children crying, adults "freaking out", and families running back from the beach to find their loved ones.

"One man was in the bathtub with his daughter and family praying."

Hawaiian Governor David Ige has apologised for the "pain and confusion" caused by the false ballistic missile attack alert, and pledged to get to the bottom of how the error came about.

The false alarm came just days after one of Kim Jong Un's top officials said North Korea's weapons would be specifically aimed at the US, and not at South Korea, Russia or China.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has slammed US President Donald Trump over his North Korea failings following the Hawaii missile panic, accusing him of playing with the lives of Hawaiians and Americans.

"Our leaders have failed us. Donald Trump is not taking this seriously. We have to get rid of nuclear threat from North Korea. We have to achieve peace, not play politics, because this is literally life and death that is at stake for the people of Hawaii and the people of this country," Gabbard told CNN.

"The talk that needs to be happening is between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. The United States and North Korea to de-escalate and to denuclearise and get rid of this nuclear threat.

"This is a threat that's not only facing Hawaii, but this country. And if they had gone through what our families in Hawaii just went through, they would be angry, like I am."