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View from the helicopter into the main craters of Etna

Helicopter flight over Etna: simply breathtaking!

A personal report

A sightseeing flight over a volcano, by helicopter over summit craters and lava flows. This has always been my dream and now I have fulfilled it for myself – and my family: a helicopter flight over Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, with EtnaWay.

Our tour starts early in the morning. Visibility is usually best at this time of day. Clouds may form during the day as the warm air rises from the sea.

Transfer from the hotel in Catania

So, on EtnaWay’s recommendation, we are picked up from our hotel in Catania at 8am. We leave the big city of Catania, take the motorway and 45 minutes later we are in Fiumefreddo, from where the helicopter takes off.

But we don’t just take off from an airfield, but from a helipad in the middle of a beautiful hotel complex. The helicopter’s take-off point is between oleander and orange trees.

English speaking guide and safety instructions

At the hotel, we are already expected by the pilot and our guide, who will accompany us during the flight and explain everything about the volcano. The helicopter is for 5 people and the pilot, so with the four of us and the guide, it will be just fine.

The pilot starts with the safety instructions and explains how to use the headset that everyone receives.

Flight to Etna

Now the helicopter flight over Etna can begin. The doors are locked and the pilot is cleared for take-off. We’re all very excited and eager, as this is the first helicopter flight of our lives.

The helicopter takes off and flies towards Etna. The flight is surprisingly quiet, not unlike an aeroplane.

Helicopter flight over Etna

The Valle del Bove from above

We approach Etna from the east and fly first to the Valle del Bove, this huge valley on the eastern side of Etna.

While the guide tells us something about the formation and history of Etna in fluent English, we can practically experience the development of the volcano live below us. From this unique perspective, we can see how the flanks of the valley do not run to today’s summit, but to the former, higher peak that collapsed about 10,000 years ago.

We see lava flows upon lava flows that have completely filled this vast and formerly green valley over the last decades. From a bird’s eye view we can see the lava flows from beginning to end, the new fresh flows flowing black over the older greyer flows.

You can also clearly see the 2022 lava flows that poured into the Valle del Bove from the foot of the south-eastern crater for over a month.

View into the summit craters

Our sightseeing flight now comes to the absolute climax, we approach the 4 main craters.

Safety always comes first with a volcano, of course. Depending on the wind direction and volcanic activity, a decision is made before each flight as to whether the flight is possible and which route is best. We now fly from the north, counterclockwise, towards the main craters. First we catch sight of the north-eastern crater, the former highest point of Etna. Then we continue to the huge central crater, which was Etna’s only summit crater until about 100 years ago. Its diameter is enormous at about 500 metres.

Inside it we see the active vents Voragine and Bocca Nuova, white and black smoke rising.

Now we come to the currently most active and unstable main crater of Etna: the South-Eastern Crater, at 3357 metres currently the highest point of the volcano. There is a huge aisle in the cone: an eruption in 2022 split the crater from top to bottom. Smoke also rises here.

We are amazed to see that the craters are not just black. There are shades of red, grey and brown, and the south-eastern crater is speckled with yellow from the escaping sulphur.

Helicopter flight over Etna: view of the south-east summit crater

We can look directly into the chasms of the craters, a scary sight when you consider that these vents are filled with magma and lead directly into Etna’s magma chambers. And the only way to get this close to the main craters. For safety reasons, due to the ongoing volcanic activity, climbing on foot to the main craters has been forbidden for years.

Return flight to Fiumefreddo

On the return flight we can once again see the incredible power of eruptions. During some lateral eruptions, practically the whole slope has split. The escaping lava has formed whole chains of craters. From the air, you can see the huge dimensions of these so-called button-bars of craters (Bottoniera).

We see how these cracks in the slope have always formed in the same direction, along the northeastern fault, one of Etna’s largest faults.

From the air, we can also clearly see how close the lava flows have come to the inhabited areas.

After 30 breathtaking minutes, the helicopter lands gently back at the helipad.

Breakfast, Pool & Relax

After this adventure, however, our excursion is not yet over. We now come to the relaxing part of the tour 😉

With EtnaWay, a helicopter flight, whether group or private, always includes breakfast at the hotel or a drink by the pool. In addition, you can use the hotel’s pool for free. Of course we wouldn’t say no to that!

After the exciting flight we are all really hungry and enjoy breakfast on the hotel terrace. We also use the pool afterwards and relax for the rest of the day at the hotel. We can have lunch in the hotel’s own restaurant.

In the afternoon we head back to Catania. A wonderful day with everything included comes to an end: transfer, sightseeing flight, adventure & relaxation!

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