Tour Guides Recount Escape From Volcano
By CRIS LARANO and JOSEPHINE CUNETA
European Pressphoto Agency
Rescuers on Thursday carry down the remains of one of the climbers.
Five European tourists and their three Filipino guides were a few hundred yards from the crater of Mount Mayon in the Philippines when they decided to turn back because thick fog had made it difficult to keep climbing. But their decision didn’t come soon enough.
Mount Mayon, one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, spewed hot ash and rocks on Tuesday, killing four climbers—three Germans and one Spaniard—and one of the tour guides.
Eighteen-year-old Nicanor Mabao was one of the three who survived what scientists call a phreatic, or steam-driven, explosion. He told The Wall Street Journal that the blast happened quickly and without warning.
Alex Sallan/Associated Press
Mayon volcano, one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, spewed huge rocks and ash after daybreak Tuesday.
“I heard a loud explosion, louder than thunder,” said Mr. Mabao as he prepared to leave the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital, where he and fellow guide Kenneth Jesalva were treated for burns and other injuries.
Mr. Mabao was 16 when he started guiding tourists up Mount Mayon and is a member of the Panaway Mountaineer Group, which usually climbs the 2,440-metervolcano three to four times a week.
Mr. Jesalva, 21 years old, who sustained a broken shoulder due to falling rocks, also recalled a loud explosion.
“It sounded like thunder. It was very loud. Then, I heard the noise of cascading rocks. But we couldn’t see the rocks, the thick fog blinded us from seeing the falling debris,” Mr. Jesalva said.
Then the rocks started landing on them.
“We were moving very slowly due to the thick fog. Burning rocks as big as our backpacks hit us. Because of my small frame, I was able to hide from the rocks but was still hit on my back and left foot,” he said.
Despite being pelted by hot rocks, Mr. Mabao said he remembers looking after Sabine Strohberger, who nearly fell after stepping on a loose rock. He grabbed her backpack and lifted her to safety. Ms. Strohberger, an Austrian, was the only climber in the group to survive.
The shock of the deadly episode will change their lives forever, the guides said.
“I curse Mayon. I won’t set foot on it again,” said Mr. Jesalva, who is working part-time as a tour guide to support his studies. He is in the third year of a criminology course and wants to become a law-enforcement officer. He said he would still climb mountains, but not Mount Mayon.
Mr. Mabao vowed not to climb again.
Meanwhile, Philippine Army Lt. Col. Raul Farnacio said the bodies of the five who died have been retrieved and are awaiting autopsy.
Another Thai survivor stuck on the “critical side” of the volcano awaits rescue, he said, because the steep slope and high elevation prevents a helicopter landing.
Twenty-seven people, including tour guides, were hiking up to the summit when the explosion occurred, according to Gov. Joey Salceda of the Philippine province of Albay.
Write to Cris Larano at firstname.lastname@example.org and Josephine Cuneta at josephine email@example.com
A version of this article appeared May 10, 2013, on page A8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tour Guides Recount Escape From Volcano.