After entering a prohibited area, an 11-year-old boy fell into a volcanic crater at Solfatara near Naples, Italy, on Tuesday, and when his parents came to the rescue, they also fell into the collapsing crater.
"The moving sands swallowed all three and the gas exhalation would have been lethal" is how Italian news outlet La Repubblica described the tragedy, adding that the hole was probably saturated with carbon dioxide.
Details are sketchy, but the Daily Mail reported that Italian tourist Massimiliano Carrer, 45, attempted to save his son, Lorenzo, and fell into the crater when the ground gave way. The crater collapsed more when the mother, Tiziana Zaramella, 42, rushed in to save them. She also fell into the crater, and all were believed to have been overcome by fumes.
The BBC reported that the area is known for a type of quicksand and the ground is prone to crumbling:
"When the boy went into the quicksand, his father tried to help him and fell into the pit. His mother went to their aid and all three are thought to have become trapped and lost consciousness because of poisonous gases. The local civil protection department said that inside the pit was boiling hot mud."
A 7-year-old son who remained behind the barrier watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded.
"I saw a child run crying," a witness told La Repubblica. "I was at the Solfatara for work, along with other visitors. We realized that something had happened and we approached the crater. I did not imagine what I would see.
"The area was fenced. It was a tragedy; they pulled out two bodies, then pulled us away. I continue to think about that family and that poor baby crying and asking for help."
Firefighters retrieved the bodies.
Armando Guerriero, owner of a bar that has been located nearby since 1931, told La Repubblica, "I've been here for 40 years and such an accident has never happened."
The 7-year-old was brought to his establishment after the tragedy.
"We tried to calm him," he said. "Of course he was in shock."
Social workers from the Municipality of Pozzuoli and a psychologist were attending to the boy. His grandparents were expected to arrive in the afternoon.
“I am shocked for what happened inside the Solfatara volcano and feel deep pain over the tragedy involving three tourists, and I express my condolences from the community of Pozzuoli to the victims’ family,” Pozzuoli mayor Vincenzo Figliolia told La Repubblica.
Solfatara is in the Campi Flegrei, a large volcanic area made up of 24 craters. The name ‘Solfatara’ comes from the term ‘sulhpur terra‘ or ‘land of sulphur.’
It has not erupted since the 12th century BC, but is popular with tourists due to its mud pools and sulphurous vapours, which have also been used for medicinal purposes. It is possible that the heavy rains over recent days contributed to the accident by making the ground less stable.
The Independent reported that the volcanic crater is in the Phlegraen Fields and that the fields are scorching hot only a few inches below the surface.
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