Fleeing from Dante’s hell on Mount Etna | Letters

Mount Etna erupting on16 March 2017. ‘We suddenly felt the ground move under our feet,’ writes John Howlett. Photograph: Genia/IPA/Rex/Shutterstock

In June 1967, on honeymoon with my Sicilian wife, I persuaded her one night to climb the mountain under which she’d spent her childhood, and to whose craters she had never ventured (BBC volcano crew run for their lives as Mount Etna comes to life, 17 March). Etna was in eruption and the guides who accompanied us eager to use their “irons”, making ashtrays from the molten lava. We stood watching them, figures against the fire as in a circle of Dante’s hell; until we suddenly felt the ground move under our feet. As we stepped away and ran, the mountainside split open to produce another lava stream. And effectively cut us off.

One guide managed to reach us and we were forced to retreat around the east side of the crater, in those days nothing but a steep scree slope of lava ash falling 1,000 metres into one of Etna’s valleys. The guide carried my wife across the “death slide”, as he described it, telling us not to breathe for the next 100 metres. We were in the middle of the sulphur cloud. We did miraculously survive; as also did our marriage. And that same morning, trembling still on the summit, watched the sun rise over Calabria.
John Howlett
Rye, East Sussex

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