Saturday, March 18, 2006

Scientist left behind on New Zealand island which faces the fury of its volcano!

A spectacular volcanic eruption rocked a tiny Pacific island, triggering a dramatic 2,000km helicopter rescue flight that saved five researchers but failed to find their missing colleague who had to be left behind.

The chopper - modified to make a prolonged flight across the ocean - was carrying the five New Zealand Department of Conservation workers from Raoul Island to Auckland.

The return journey is 10 hours and 2,000km-long.

The rescuers were unable to search for the missing man, who failed to return from an excursion when one of the volcano's craters erupted on Friday morning, spewing steam, ash and boulders in the air.

The volcano blew its top at 8.21am (0621 AEDT) while the man was away from the rest of the group monitoring water temperature in a crater lake.

A moderate earthquake heralded the 40-second eruption.

Two workers later tried to find their colleague but were forced to retreat to a safer area because of the volcano's fury.

Fallen trees and ash blocked a track the man had taken, said departmental area manager Rolien Elliot.

The three women and two men took shelter at the island's hostel until the helicopter arrived around 6pm (1600 AEDT) and left an hour later after refuelling.

Helicopter pilot John Funnell said the blast had considerably altered the island's landscape.
"There's been about five hectares of native bush cleared and a lot of mud and evidence of boulders and rocks that have been thrown out of the crater itself," Funnell told Television New Zealand.

He said the eruption had been a frightening experience for the rescued workers.

The six people had been the only inhabitants of Raoul Island, part of the Kermadec islands - NZ territory located roughly halfway between Auckland and Tonga.

Elliot said the department was liaising with NZ's National Rescue Coordination Centre about the possibility of a follow-up search and rescue mission.

A police officer on board the helicopter was charged with assessing the feasibility of such a mission and reporting back to the centre, she said.

The MIL17 helicopter was accompanied by a Navajo fixed-wing aircraft, which flew over the island to survey the impact of the eruption.

It was expected to arrive at Auckland's Ardmore Airport around midnight (2200 AEDT).

Clusters of earthquakes occurred on Raoul from Sunday night through to Tuesday but then seismic activity dropped off until Friday.

Raoul Island is roughly triangular in shape with an area of 29 sq km, and has three craters.
The island is known to have erupted 14 times, most recently in 1964.

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