I once had a dreadful, almost revolting, bias against volcanos. Leprous open sores in the earth, disgorging the planet’s revolting wastes, the disgusting stink of rotten eggs completing the horrid scene….
Is your skin crawling yet? Well, imagine flying over a volcano crater.
It’s like getting out of bed at midnight to stand in front of an open window, trying not to think about what may be beyond the darkness….
I’ve flown over Pinatubo and Taal. Both times I found myself tense, flying with one hand on the throttle, ready to add all available power, in case scaly green monsters reared out of the craters. Also, aren’t volcano craters full of impossible crosswinds? I mean, how does wind behave when it’s trapped in a caldera, unable to get out?
The first time I flew over Pinatubo, clouds shrouded the crater. I did see the saw-toothed lava molars to the west of the crater, waiting to crush my trusty airplane. This was no place to have an engine failure.
I just glimpsed the crater — and saw an intriguing sight. A luminescent pool of bright blue-green water, placid inside a deep caldera. As I fled to lower altitudes over the Central Luzon plain, I found myself longing to see that lake again.
The next chance came a year later. Unusually for summer, Pinatubo’s crater was free of clouds and lay bare for Carlo and me. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Carlo took these pictures in May, 2005.
In January, 2006, I had an even better view. The weather was what pilots call “severe clear”. The only weather factor was haze over Central Luzon. It was a factor because we had not one but two volcanos in frame.
The second volcano is Mt. Arayat. The only mountain in the Central Luzon plain, it sticks out of the haze like a Hershey Kiss on a flat sheet of rice fields. Not often do you get to see two volcanos in one shot.
And there is no way you will see this from an airliner. Small airplanes ROCK! Low and slow makes it flow 😀
In October, 2006 we added a novel twist to our Pinatubo sightings. A cousin from San Francisco visited. Her fiancee came with her. The fiancee ( a dead-look alike for Daniel Craig, “Bond, James Bond”) is an airline pilot in the US.
The twist? Air-to-air pictures of our airplane over Mt.Pinatubo! Mr. Bond flew a Cessna 172 from Omni Aviation, and we formed up loosely over the crater. My cousin K took lots of pictures. Yup, that miniscule white flyspeck is our beloved Cessna 152, with its almighty engine that has all of 125 horsepower. A BMW 3-series has far more oomph. Good grief, huh?
I reckon the best thing to do if the airplane’s engine decides to take an unscheduled rest stop here is to put the thing down on the crater lake itself. (The crater is a bit over 2 kilometers wide. That would be a short approach!) Then call for help. Would there be cellphone signals out of a volcano crater? How long would an airplane float in a sulphuric crater lake?
I still fly here with one hand on the throttle. And I fly with senses nervously heightened, listening sharply for that engine hiccup, suspicious for the slightest tremor in the airframe. And yes, there is a scaly green monster down there, a slug as big as a skyscraper, grinning with anticipation, waiting just under the surface of that green lake, waiting for me to come lower, just a bit closer….
Mt. Pinatubo erupted cataclysmically on June 15, 1991. The most powerful eruption in over half a century blew over 1,000 feet of the mountain’s summit into a massive pycroclastic and tephra cloud that rocketed up in just a few seconds to a height of 34 kilometers, way into the upper stratosphere. The atmosphere was actually compressed, and an expansion ring marked the shockwave as the cloud penetrated the tropopause. The unearthly cloud had a diameter of over 400km, and remained intact in the earth’s stratosphere for weeks, long after the eruption ended.
Over 75,000 square kilometers of Central and Western Luzon were engulfed by ash fall, from a centimeter thick to several dozen meters deep in many places. With over 1,000 feet of its summit blown away, Pinatubo’s remaining upper slope collapsed into a 2.5 kilometer caldera.
The volcano had been dormant for over 600 years.