Injured Thai volcano hiker rescued

MANILA - A 35-year-old Thai hiker was rescued on Wednesday from a Philippine volcano one day after a sudden explosion of rocks and ash killed four European tourists and a local guide.

Filipino soldiers unload provisions for the continuing retrival operation of five victims at the slope of the Mayon volcano in Malilipot town, Albay province, on Wednesday. Boonchai Jattuporngong, a 35-year-old Thai hiker, was rescued from the volcano a day after a sudden explosion of rocks and ash that killed four European tourists and a local guide. (EPA photo)

Boonchai Jattuporngong was found weakened and with a broken arm about half a kilometre from the crater of Mount Mayon in Albay province, 350 kilometres southeast of Manila, said Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro, a regional civil defence director.

``He is stable but he will be subject to further medical checks,`` Mr Alejandro said.

Rescue teams were also slowly bringing down the bodies of five people killed in the Mayon eruption - three German nationals, a Spanish woman residing in Germany and the local guide.

The descent has been difficult because ``there are lots of rocks that were dislodged by the explosion,'' said Marti Calleja, manager of the tour company that organised the climb for the German and Spanish tourists.

Mr Calleja, whose guides were helping in the retrieval operations, said the bodies would be brought to an area on Mayon where military helicopters would be able to pick them up.

"The bodies were partially burned and mangled," he said. "Two of the victims were found hugging each other. The guy, though heavily wounded, tried to hold on to the girl."

A total of 27 foreign and local climbers were on Mayon, including 12 who were injured, when it spewed rocks, ash and steam 500 metres above its summit.

Kenneth Jesalva, a Filipino guide who was with the German tourists, said his group was on the way down when the explosion happened.

"We had merely gone down a few metres in a very slow, careful pace due to thick fog (when) the burning rocks as big as our backpacks hit us," he told the Philippine Star newspaper from his hospital bed in nearby Legazpi City.

"I managed to hide from the rocks but was still hit on my back and left foot," he added.

The blast was a phreatic explosion caused when water comes into contact with molten rock underground, turning it instantly into steam and propelling it into the air, often mixed with ash, mud, rock fragments and gases.

Mr Boonchai was one of the five Thai climbers on the mountain when the eruption occurred, the Thai embassy in the Philippines said on Tuesday. The others were not hurt in the eruption.

The 2,472-metre volcano, famous for its nearly symmetrical cone, has erupted about 50 times since 1616. It last erupted in July 2006, forcing more than 30,000 people to flee their homes.

Mayon's most violent eruption on record was in 1814, when more than 1,200 people were killed and a town was buried in volcanic mud. An eruption in 1993 killed 79 people.

Mount Mayon is usually peaceful and picturesque, attracting thousands of visitors because of its near-perfect symmetry. But it is usually smoking and eruptions often take place without any warning.

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