Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Volcano victims recorded images of final moments

MOUNT ONTAKE:Digital cameras and iPhones caught fall scenery and successful summits as well as billowing clouds on the fatal slopes on Sept. 27


The victims include hikers from a major insurance company, members of a group of nature lovers and a construction manager who took snapshots to show his wife, absent because she had to work.

More than 50 people died when Mount Ontake, a popular destination in central Japan, erupted on Sept. 27 in the nation’s deadliest volcanic event since World War II.

Together, they paint a typical picture of weekend recreational hikers in Japan. Most were between 30 and 59 years old and lived within a few hours’ drive or train ride from the mountain. Three were children and just five were 60 or older.

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

The number of hikers in Nagano surged to 730,000 last year, a 30 percent increase from five years ago.

With modest slopes, 3,067m Mount Ontake is one of the easier climbs in the region.

Rescuers have found 51 hikers, with at least a dozen missing.

Hideomi Takahashi, 41, was among nine climbers from major Japanese insurance company Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Holdings Inc. They worked at two branches near Tokyo. Three survived.

At Takahashi’s funeral on Thursday, his family showed a close friend an iPhone with at least six photos from what would be the last few minutes of his life. The last photo, apparently shot by a colleague, shows Takahashi standing next to the “Mount Ontake summit” sign, giving a thumbs-up.

“When I saw the iPhone still worked, I thought it was like a miracle,” said the friend, Hiroyuki, who asked that only his first name be used.

Takahashi seems happy in the final image, but is not quite smiling.

“Maybe he saw signs of the eruption,” Hiroyuki said, adding he has trouble accepting that his best friend died, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Construction firm employee Izumi Noguchi, 59, was climbing alone, as his wife, Hiromi, had to work, she told Japanese broadcaster NHK and other TV stations. His compact camera was banged up, but the memory chip inside was undamaged. She printed all 100 shots. The last one is of an enormous plume billowing from the crater behind a mountaintop lodge.

“This is an amazing photo, but I wish he had fled instead of taking pictures. I would rather have him back,” Hiromi said.

Yasuo Ito, 54, did not even have time to eat the lunch he packed.

His wife, also named Hiromi, told NHK that Ito was among six members from a nature conservation volunteer group. Three survived.

She identified his body on Thursday and received his ash-coated knapsack. She pulled out a lunchbox — cracked 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.”

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