Mount Ontake eruption in Japan: Final moments of hikers killed by volcano captured in poignant photos

Over 50 people were killed when the volcano in central Japan erupted without warning on 27 September

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 06 October 2014 08:54
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Izumi Noguchi poses on the summit of Mount Ontake shortly before the eruption
Izumi Noguchi poses on the summit of Mount Ontake shortly before the eruption

The last moments of hikers who died during the eruption of Mount Ontake in late September have been captured in poignant images found on phones and cameras.

Over 50 people were killed when the volcano in central Japan erupted without warning on 27 September, the country’s deadliest volcano eruption since World War II. Several hundred people were thought to have been on the mountain when it erupted at 11.52am.

Most of the victims were between 30 and 59-years-old. Three were children, and five were aged 60 or older. Rescue workers have recovered 51 bodies so far – most at the summit – with at least a dozen people still missing.

“The best season for the leaves just started, the weather was beautiful, it was the weekend, and it was lunchtime,” Masahito Ono, a Nagano prefecture tourism official, told the Guardian.

Hideomi Takahashi, 41, was among nine climbers from a major Japanese insurance company, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Holdings Inc. Only three survived.

At Takahashi’s funeral, his family showed a close friend Takahashi's phone, with photos from what would be the last few minutes of his life. The last photo, apparently shot by a colleague, pictures Takahashi standing next to the 'Mount Ontake summit' sign.

This photo was found in a smart phone possessed by 41-year-old hiker Hideomi Takahashi who fell victim to the eruption of Mount Ontake

“When I saw the iPhone still worked, I thought it’s like a miracle,” the friend Hiroyuki told the Guardian, adding that he has trouble accepting that his best friend died, leaving behind his wife and two children.

Yasuo Ito, 54, was an employee at a prefecture-funded housing agency. His wife Hiromi, told NHK that he was among six members of a nature conservation volunteer group. Just three survived.

She identified his body on Thursday and received his knapsack, coated in ash. She pulled out a lunchbox, which survived despite cracks on a side, then opened the top. His handmade egg salad sandwiches were untouched.

“Poor thing, he should have eaten this,” she said. “He must be getting hungry by now.”

A photo taken by 59-year-old hiker Izumi Noguchi, who died in the eruption of Mount Ontake. The picture was offered to Kyodo News by his wife, Hiromi

Construction company employee Izumi Noguchi, 59, was climbing alone, as his wife, also called Hiromi, had to work, she told Japanese broadcaster NHK and other TV stations. His compact camera was damaged, but the memory chip inside still worked.

Hiromi Noguchi, wife of 59-year-old hiker Izumi Noguchi who fell victim to the eruption of Mount Ontake, speaks to Kyodo News while showing last photos of the volcanic mountain

Hiromi printed all 100 photos. The last one is of an enormous plume of gas and ash churning out of the crater behind a mountain-top lodge.

A photo taken by 59-year-old hiker Izumi Noguchi who fell victim to the eruption of Mount Ontake, and was offered to Kyodo News by his wife, Hiromi

“This is an amazing photo. But I wish he had fled instead of taking pictures. I’d rather have him back,” Hiromi said. “I hope to hike up there someday, perhaps 10 years later. I want to see what my husband saw.”

Yasuo Ito, 54, didn’t even have time to eat the lunch he packed. His wife, also named Hiromi, told NHK television that Mr Ito, a housing agency employee, was among six members from a nature conservation volunteer group caught by the eruption. Only three survived.

She identified his body on Thursday and received his ash-coated knapsack. She pulled out a lunchbox, which survived despite cracks on the side. His egg salad sandwiches were untouched.

“Poor thing, he should have eaten this,” she said. “He must be getting hungry by now.”

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