Dozens of climbers caught in middle of deadly volcanic eruption

Eric Pfeiffer
The Lookout
Dozens of climbers caught in middle of deadly volcanic eruption

Five mountain climbers were killed and eight either others injured when a sudden volcanic eruption in the Philippines sent down rocks “big as cars.”

“I heard a sound similar to a sudden drop of coconuts. Then I heard noise of cascading rocks. But the thick fog clouding us that time blinded us from seeing the falling debris,” 21-year-old tour guide and mountaineer Kenneth Jesalva told the Philippine Star in a hospital bed interview.

Nearly 30 climbers were taking part in a trek to the basin of the Mayon volcano, which lies on the Philippine island of Luzon. Despite its tragic outcome, Tuesday’s eruption was not considered out of the ordinary, having erupted an estimated 48 times over the past 400 years, according to Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Several climbers who were not injured in the blast remained stranded atop the 8,070 foot tall mountain and were awaiting rescue by helicopter and rope.

"The injured are all foreigners ... they cannot walk,” Albay provincial Gov. Joey Salceda said. “If you can imagine, the boulders there are as big as cars. Some of them slid and rolled down. We will rappel the rescue team, and we will rappel them up again."

Mount Mayon is the stuff of local legend, with Philippine folklore telling a Romeo and Juliet type love story surrounding two individual who committed suicide at the base of the volcano.

But the recent history of the volcano is far from a love story, with a number of deadly eruptions taking place.

Most recently, a 2010 eruption briefly sent thousands of nearby residents running for cover. In 2006, an eruption and accompanying heavy rainfall resulted in a lahar (mudslide) that killed an estimated 1,266 people. And in February 1993, a similarly unexpected eruption from Mayon killed 77 local farmers.

Salceda said he plans to ban any future climbs up the mountain, which has remained a popular destination despite the regular eruption. There is even a hiking trail that takes climbers to the heart of the volcano’s crater. That trail is reportedly littered with rocks and other debris from past eruptions.