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Accidents on Mount Etna

To mark the occasion, here is another article on the topic of “How dangerous is Mount Etna?” – but this time not primarily with reference to volcanic eruptions, falling rocks, lava flows and sulphur mist. It’s about solo endeavours, misguided adventurers, tragic-mysterious deaths; about people who had tragic accidents on Mount Etna.

A night in ice and snow

Just a week ago, on 9.12.2022, a woman was found on Mount Etna, lost and forced to spend an icy night in the high mountains.

“Sono viva per miracolo” – “It is a miracle that I am still alive”.

The young Brazilian woman had climbed the volcano on her own to take photos, but soon realised she was lost – she sent out a call for help and announced her position at about 16:30: a little north of the Torre del Filosofo at about 2,800 metres, far off the designated trails. After that, there was no more signal and the woman attempted a descent, because darkness was approaching and she had to look for a way to spend the night.

She was finally found the next day in the Valle del Bove. How did this young woman manage to survive the whole night in snow and ice more or less unharmed? What probably saved her life was the topological nature of this valley: there are relatively sheltered spots and it is full of small caves where she could hide. When she heard voices the next morning, she screamed as loud as she could and was eventually found.

Franco Malerba

But even experienced hikers who knew and loved Mount Etna have already met their doom. On the south side of Mount Etna, at an altitude of 2046 metres, on the edge of the Valle del Bove, a memorial plaque commemorates Franco Malerba.

On 8 July 1987, the member of the Italian Alpine Club died at this spot: he fell into the Valle del Bove through a moment of carelessness and could not be rescued. His friends erected this memorial plaque shortly afterwards.

Franco Malerba died in an accident on Mount Etna: a memorial stone still commemorates him today

Bones in the grotto

A sensational, tragic find was made last year: the Alpine rescue team of the Nicolosi financial police discovered the remains of a man in a grotto on Mount Etna. He had obvious deformities of the mouth and nose, was about 50 years old and 1.70 metres tall. The accident happened decades ago – DNA analysis gives a date between 1970-1990. We will never know what exactly happened, but apparently the man was unable to leave the grotto and was trapped.

He was found by the German shepherd dog “Halma” of the mountain rescue unit, who smelled something outside the cave and started barking loudly, so that the men of the unit became aware. In addition to the bones, clothing and a few objects have been preserved. He had some lire coins, an Omega watch and a small comb with a case with him. Efforts are now being made to establish the man’s identity.

Austrian falls into cave

In 2016, a 64-year-old cyclist from Bad Goisern had a fatal accident on Mount Etna. He had parked his bicycle to visit some caves and fell four metres. It is suspected that the man did not die immediately – he had a telephone in his hand with which he presumably wanted to call for help. When an Etna guide saw the bike standing in front of the cave, he called the mountain rescue, but unfortunately any help came too late. The cave into which the Austrian had fallen is located at 1630 metres above sea level and is called “Grotta dei tre livelli” and is a popular excursion destination.

If you want to visit this cave, of course only as far as it is safe, then join us on the South Etna Tour!

Grotta dei tre livelli

The Grotta dei tre livelli is located on the south side of Etna. It is 1150 metres long and extends over 3 levels (hence its name). Only the first few metres of the lava tunnel can be visited safely. What exactly a lava tunnel is, you can read here: The lava tunnels of Etna I

German slipped on the ice

Just like the young Brazilian woman last week, the photographer Thomas R.’s love of volcano photography was his undoing. For the German, the accident ended fatally in 2008. He had set out to photograph the spectacular eruptions of the small secondary craters “Hornitos”, but slid 40 to 50 metres down an icy slope and crashed into a lava rock. He was still able to send out a call for help, but the sharp, jagged rock had injured him so badly that the doctor of engineering and amateur photographer bled to death on the spot.

A common thread runs through many of these stories: Exploring alone, off the designated trails, is a risky business. The wild, fascinating and unpredictable beauty of Etna has a magical attraction – but Etna covers a vast area, some of which is difficult to survey and full of treacherous hazards both small and large. One must also be aware that the telephone network at such altitudes is patchy, if it works at all.

Observing an eruption from a safe distance

Etna should only be explored with a suitably trained guide. An eruption is best observed from a safe distance and with a good camera lens!

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