Last weekend, a 23-year-old Maryland man was rescued after falling into the crater of Mount Vesuvius while trying to take a selfie. How common is it actually to fall into a volcano?
While data suggests that many people who fall into volcanoes perish — which makes the Maryland man happy — there have been other survivors of volcanic falls.
According to a 2017 study, between AD 1500 and 2017, at least 27 individual volcano-related deaths “occurred from falls or accidents,” including: a fall into the acidic crater lake at Kelimutu, Indonesia; a fall into thermal mud near Mutnovsky, Russia; one incident in Rotorua, New Zealand, and 23 incidents in Yellowstone, United States, in which victims fell or jumped into thermal pools.
Some of the 23 Yellowstone deaths that occurred between 1890 and 2016 were the result of submersion in near-boiling water in thermal pools that victims believed were swimmable and classified as “accidents,” according to researchers. Almost 40% of the fatalities in Yellowstone National Park were children under the age of 10.
Another deadly volcanic fall was reported in January this year when a 75-year-old man from Hilo, Hawaii, died after falling from an enclosed area in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
“After searching for the man in the dark, National Park Service rangers and Hawai’i County firefighters found the body of the man about 100 feet below the crater rim, west of the Uēkahuna lookout at the summit of Kīlauea volcano,” it said in a press release. “Parking attendants, assisted by a helicopter, recovered the body around 8am”
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was also the scene of a non-fatal fall in 2019, when a man lost his footing and fell off a 300-foot cliff in the Kīlauea caldera.
“The man had just climbed over a permanent metal railing at the Steaming Bluff lookout to get closer to the cliff,” the press release said. “Response personnel arrived quickly and began a coordinated search and rescue of the area. At around 9 p.m. the man was found alive but seriously injured on a narrow ledge about 70 feet below the cliff edge.”
“Visitors should never cross safety barriers, particularly on dangerous and destabilized cliff edges,” Chief Ranger John Broward said after the incident. “Crossing security barriers and entering confined areas can result in serious injury or death.”
Researchers who published the 2017 study also said that “tourist collaboration is a requirement for safety in any volcanic environment, relying on visitors to heed warnings and exercise reasonable caution.”
In 2020, 32-year-old mountaineer Caroline Sundbaum, from Portland, Oregon, fell from 15 feet into a snow-covered volcanic vent, or fumarole, on Mt. Hood. Another climber realized she had disappeared and was eventually withdrawn.
“Fortunately, another climber witnessed this incident – otherwise Sundbaum would have been extremely difficult to locate, and the air in fumaroles can be toxic and potentially deadly,” a press release said. She sustained a shoulder injury in the fall.
“Fumarole cavities form in the same general areas every year and are often visible through depressions in the snow surface or open holes in the snow,” the Clackamas Co. Sheriff’s Office said. “If you don’t know where the fumarole areas are, ask.” knowledgeable climbers and do some research on the subject. Know before you go.”
On Mt. Vesuvius last weekend, the Maryland man — identified as Philip Carroll — and two family members hiked from the city of Ottaviano to the top of the Italian volcano via a forbidden trail, Paolo Cappelli, the president of the Presidio Permanente Vesuvio Guides Base, told NBC News.
Vesuvius is an active volcano in the Bay of Naples on the Campania plain in southern Italy. It is known for the great eruption of AD 79 which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “buried the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under ash and lapilli, and the city of Herculaneum under a mudslide”. Tourists come to see ash in the form of people trapped in the eruption.
“This family took a different path that was closed to tourists, although there was a small gate and ‘no entry’ signs,” Cappelli said.
At the top of the 4,000+ foot volcano, Carroll stopped to take a selfie. Then his phone fell into the crater.
“He tried to salvage it but slipped and went down a few meters into the crater. He managed to stop his fall but got stuck at that point,” said Cappelli. “He was very lucky. If he had continued, he would have fallen 300 meters into the crater.”
Luckily, leaders of the Presidio Permanente Vesuvio saw what was happening with binoculars from the opposite side of the rim and came to rope him to safety. Carroll emerged from the crater with scratches and lacerations on his arms and back.
According to a 2018 study, from October 2011 to November 2017, there were 259 selfie-clicking fatalities out of 137 incidents, and most of the victims were around 23 years old. A video shared on Instagram on Sunday, posted by what appears to be Carroll’s brother, shows the view from the top of Mount Vesuvius, NBC News said.
A voice is heard saying, “We literally hiked to the top of a f—— volcano!”
According to Cappelli, Carroll was taken into custody by local Carabinieri police. It wasn’t immediately clear what charges he faces, NBC News said, who reached out to Carroll and his family for comment.