For 38 minutes, these Australians in Hawaii were made to believe they were about to die.

Video via CNN

A visit to Hawaii is an item on many traveller’s bucket lists, with the mere mention of the destination conjuring images of relaxation, pristine beaches and days spent soaking up some sun.

But for many Australian families, their ideal holiday turned into a nightmare when, just after 8am, they received a notification that a ballistic missile would hit the island state within minutes.

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill,” the government-issued message read.

It was the message Michael Manou – visiting Hawaii with his wife Lea and their three young children – was greeted with when he first checked his phone upon waking.

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After a frantic internet search to find more information, 40-year-old Michael realised thousands of others had received the same alert.

“The fact that the alert stated that it was not a drill really sunk in after two to three minutes,” Michael told Daily Mail Australia.

Manou family
Michael Manou and his family were travelling in Hawaii when they received the alert. Image via Facebook.

"It became obvious very quickly that no one knew what to do.

"We rang the reception of our hotel who told us to stay in our room, but they were 'trying to verify the message and determine the next steps'."

He and his wife Lea, also 40, decided to try and find shelter away from their hotel, packing their passports, phones and several bottles of water into a bag.

LISTEN: The Chaser's Chas Licciardello explains why we have nothing to fear when it comes to nuclear war with North Korea.

But the couple chose not to inform their children - Alex, 9, Grace, 7, and Will, 5 - what was happening.

"The overriding emotion was helplessness... Lea and I talked about the best way to respond if something did happen," he said.

Fellow Australian Danielle Smith was standing on the shore of Banzai Pipeline with her husband and children - 13-year-old Ebony and eight-year-old Nixon - when the alert hit her phone.

"Suddenly about 50 phones went off around me on the beach," Danielle, who works as a photographer for Fairfax, told The Age.

"Everyone's just looking around me going, 'What do you do? What do you do?'.

"We were pretty much helpless, standing on the beach just going, 'What the hell do you do?'"

Danielle Smith daughter
Danielle Smith and her daughter, Ebony. Image via Instagram.

Eventually, Danielle and her family sought shelter at a local primary school, where they had no other choice but to wait for a missile to hit.

"Literally it was just silent, no one was talking," she said.

"It was just fingers crossed, I guess, just sitting there waiting."

It wasn't until 38 minutes later that Danielle, Michael and the thousands of others visiting or living in Hawaii were sent a text confirming there was no missile threat, and the alert was a false alarm.

By that stage, Danielle said her eight-year-old son was sobbing.

"How could this happen? I'll never forget the look on his face," she said.

"All my son wants to do is go home – he's asked a lot of questions about North Korea today."

Michael said that although he had assumed the threat wasn't real when "nothing happened", his overriding emotion when the false alarm was confirmed was "one of bemusement".

"It quickly became clear that someone made a mistake. We couldn't understand how it could happen though," he said.

Hawaii officials have apologised repeatedly for the mistake and said the alert was sent when someone hit the wrong button during a shift change. They vowed to ensure it would never happen again.

"We made a mistake," said Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi, according to AAP.

"I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing," Hawaii Governor David Ige said.

The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the US Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had "detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii."

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