A boy and his parents died Tuesday morning after they fell into a volcanic crater near Naples, Italy. The mother and father had tried to save their 11-year-old son, who slipped after he breached a fence surrounding the prohibited area, according to Italian media.
The incident occurred at the Solfatara Crater in Pozzuoli, a popular tourist destination. The father, Massimiliano Carrer, 45, and his wife, Tiziana Zaramella, 42, from Meolo near Venice, attempted to rescue their son, Lorenzo. They were killed after falling five feet into the red hot crater and were killed either by the boiling mud or by the gases. Emergency crews arrived on the scene but failed to rescue the family.
Alessio, the couple's 7-year-old son, scrambled to safety and avoided the fall. Social workers reportedly took custody of him until his grandparents arrived.
"Either there was a small explosion, or the ground simply gave way from their weight, and they fell into this hole," national fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said.
The Solfatara is an inactive volcano which releases sulfurous fumes occasionally. It was formed about 4,000 years ago and last erupted in 1198. The surrounding area consisted of a quicksand deemed unstable by officials.
The crater sits in the Phlegraen Fields, an area full of about 40 ancient volcanic craters. The fields are tremendously hot and located just a couple inches below the surface.
"In the 40 years that I’ve worked here, I’ve never seen anything like it," said Armando Guerriero, owner of a bar located near the entrance to the volcano, according to the Guardian.
Bystander Diego Vitagliano told local media that the accident was the worst he’s experienced. He and staff members tried to calm the boy who repeatedly requested for his parents.
"I saw a child run crying, I did not think I was facing the worst tragedy of my life," Vitagliano told local media. "I was at the Solfatara for work, along with other visitors when we realized that something had happened and we approached the crater, I did not imagine what I would see."
Officials recovered bodies shortly after the incident.
"They pulled out two bodies, then pulled us away. I continue to think about that family and that poor baby crying and asking for help," Vitagliano explained.
"I'm upset about what happened inside the Solfatara volcano," Pozzuoli Mayor Vincenzo Figliolia said of the incident. "I express my closeness from the community of Pozzuoli to the family of the victims.
There are multiple signs posted around the volcanic craters in multiple languages that warned of imminent danger. The area consisted of high soil temperatures and steam that reached an upwards of 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors are cautioned to stay clear of fumaroles, holes in the Earth’s crust that released gases and steam, and not to climb the slopes or proceed past fences.
The Phlegraean Fields are supervised by a private company called the Vesuvius Observatory, the oldest volcanology research center in the world. Geologists monitor the area, checking temperatures and running chemical tests on gases.
Since the 1980s, the ground rose about five feet in just a couple of years. Most of the land now sits at sea level and a portion of it is submerged in the Bay of Naples.