Soldier Dies As Volcano Erupts Near Japan Ski Resort
A Japanese soldier was killed on Tuesday and several other people injured after a volcano erupted near a popular ski resort, sparking an avalanche and leaving scores stranded — including tourists from Britain and Taiwan.
Footage broadcast on Japanese television showed thick black smoke interspersed with falling rocks rolling down the snow-covered side of the volcano towards a ski slope.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that one of eight members of the Self Defence Forces who had been on a training mission on Mt. Kusatsu Shirane, northwest of Tokyo, had died after being hit by volcanic rocks.
“His lungs were damaged” because of the impact of the rocks, Onodera said, adding that the other seven soldiers had sustained injuries.
The defence ministry had initially said a total of six infantry troops were caught up in the incident.
“Black smoke rose from the top of the mountain and we were told to evacuate inside 30 minutes later,” a man who was at the ski resort told public broadcaster NHK.
Around 80 people were stranded for hours at a gondola station at the top of the mountain after a power outage.
Television footage showed military helicopters buzzing overhead as people were airlifted to safety.
Yuko Iguchi, an official from nearby Kusatsu town, told AFP: “All the people stranded at the summit were brought down to the safe zone. We have not received any injured people among them.”
Another local official, Yoichi Takai, told AFP that “15 people from Taiwan and four from Britain were among those who were stranded at the peak.”
One woman who was trapped at the gondola station but later rescued told Japanese TV: “There was an eruption in front of my eyes. Black and white plumes came towards me. Then the ski slope went completely black.”
The area had seen heavy snowfall in the hours leading up to the eruption, making the slopes ripe for avalanches.
A snowboarder told NHK his gondola had stopped suddenly and he saw that other gondolas around him had broken windows and were covered in ash.
“I realised it was an eruption. Forty to 50 minutes later, all the gondolas moved up to the station on the top of the mountain,” he said.