Tourist trying to take a selfie stumbles into Mt. Vesuvius – how common are volcano falls?

The American tourist survived but was taken into custody
Aerial view of scenic Mt. Vesuvius.
Aerial view of scenic Mt. Vesuvius. Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

Last weekend, a 23-year-old Maryland man was rescued after he fell into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius while trying to take a selfie. How common is it to actually fall into a volcano?

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While data indicates that many people who fall into volcanoes perish – making the Maryland man lucky – there have been other survivors of volcano falls.

According to a 2017 study, at least 27 single volcano-related fatalities from 1500 A.D. to 2017 occurred “through falls or misadventure,” including: a fall into the acidic crater lake at Kelimutu, Indonesia; a fall into a thermal mudpot at Mutnovsky, Russia; one incident at Rotorua, New Zealand, and 23 incidents at Yellowstone, U.S.A., where the victims fell or jumped into thermal pools.

Some of the 23 Yellowstone fatalities, which occurred between 1890 and 2016, were the result of immersion in near boiling water found in thermal pools that victims believed were swimmable and were classified as “misadventure,” according to researchers. Nearly 40% of the Yellowstone fatalities were children under 10 years old.

Another fatal volcano fall was reported this January when a 75-year-old man from Hilo, Hawaii died after falling from a closed area within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

“After searching for the man in the darkness, National Park Service rangers and Hawai’i County firefighters located the man’s body about 100 feet below the crater rim, west of the Uēkahuna viewing area at the summit of Kīlauea volcano,” said a press release. “Park rangers, assisted by helicopter, recovered the body around 8 a.m.”

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was also the site of a non-fatal fall in 2019, when a man lost his footing and fell from a 300 foot cliff at Kīlauea caldera.

“The man had just climbed over a permanent metal railing at the Steaming Bluff overlook to get closer to the cliff edge,” said a press release. “Responders arrived quickly after and began a coordinated search and rescue of the area. At approximately 9 p.m., the man was found alive but seriously injured on a narrow ledge about 70 feet down from the cliff edge.”

“Visitors should never cross safety barriers, especially around dangerous and destabilized cliff edges,” said Chief Ranger John Broward after the incident. “Crossing safety barriers and entering closed areas can result in serious injuries and death.”

Researchers who published the 2017 study also said “tourist co-operation is a requirement for safety in any volcanic setting, with visitors being relied upon to heed warnings and exercise appropriate caution.”

In 2020, 32-year-old climber Caroline Sundbaum, Portland, Ore., fell 15 feet into a snow-covered volcano opening, or fumarole, on Mt. Hood. Another climber realized she had disappeared and she was eventually recused.

“It’s fortunate another climber witnessed this incident -- it would have been extremely difficult to locate Sundbaum otherwise, and the air inside fumaroles can be toxic and potentially deadly,” said a press release. She sustained a shoulder injury during the fall.

“Fumarole cavities form in the same general areas every year, and are often revealed by depressions in the snow surface or open holes in the snow,” said the Clackamas Co. Sheriff's Office. “If you do not know where the fumarole areas are, ask knowledgeable climbers and research the topic. Know before you go.”

At Mt. Vesuvius last weekend, the Maryland man – identified as Philip Carroll – and two family members hiked to the top of the Italian volcano from the town of Ottaviano through a forbidden trail, Paolo Cappelli, the president of the Presidio Permanente Vesuvio guides base, told NBC News.

Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano located on the Bay of Naples on the plain of Campania in southern Italy. It is known for the large eruption of 79 CE that “buried the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis, and Stabiae under ashes and lapilli and the city of Herculaneum under a mudflow,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Tourists come to see ashes in the shape of people who were trapped in the eruption.

“This family took another trail, closed to tourists, even if there was a small gate and ‘no access’ signs,” Cappelli said.

At the top of the over 4,000-feet-high volcano, Carroll stopped to take a selfie. Then, his phone fell into the crater.

“He tried to recover it, but slipped and slid a few meters into the crater. He managed to stop his fall, but at that point he was stuck,” Cappelli said. “He was very lucky. If he kept going, he would have plunged 300 meters into the crater.”

Luckily, guides from Presidio Permanente Vesuvio saw what happened with binoculars from the opposite side of the rim and came to help pull him to safety with a rope. Carroll came out of the crater with scratches and cuts to his arms and back.

According to a 2018 study, there were 259 deaths while clicking selfies in 137 incidents from October 2011 to November 2017 and most victims were around 23 years old. A video shared on Instagram on Sunday, posted by someone who appears to be Carroll’s brother, shows the view from the top of Vesuvius, said NBC News.

A voice is heard saying, “We hiked to the top of a literal f------ volcano!”

Carroll was taken into custody by the local Carabinieri police, according to Cappelli. It was not immediately clear what charges he faces, said NBC News, which reached out to Carroll and his family for comment.

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