Cameramen Tell of Struggle and Fear in Volcano


HILO, Hawaii, Nov. 25— Trapped in the crater of a volcano, choking on its noxious fumes, Chris Duddy and Michael Benson recall listening to the lava gurgle below them and resigning themselves to a gruesome death.
"There were several times when I just gave in to the fact that I was going to die," said Mr. Duddy, a 31-year-old film technician who was filming the Pu'u 'O'o (pronounced POOH-ooh-Oh-oh) vent of the Kilauea Volcano from a helicopter when it crashed into the crater on Saturday morning. "Emotionally I didn't think I could handle it." He managed to climb to safety the next day.
For Mr. Benson, a 49-year-old cameraman who was not rescued until Monday morning, it was an even longer ordeal. "At night it was like a light show," he said. "The lava sounded like surf pounding against the shore." Several Lucky Breaks
The men, interviewed by telephone, were still coughing today after a brief hospital stay for respiratory difficulty.
Several lucky breaks helped the men survive, according to accounts from the men, national park service officials and rescue workers.
Shortly before noon Saturday, the helicopter lost power so suddenly that the pilot, Craig Hosking, did not have time to radio for help. When the helicopter crashed on the hot crater floor, it narrowly missed a bubbling lava pool, and all three survived with only minor cuts.
The volcano emits noxious gasses, including hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, but park officials said the men did not suffocate because they were in a part of the crater where some fresh air eddied down from the rim. Called for Help
The men started to climb to the rim, but the interior wall of the volcano crumbles so easily that every move threatened to create a rock slide.
Mr. Hosking decided to return to the helicopter, where he got the radio to work and called rescue workers, who flew a helicopter low enough into the volcano's cone to let him scramble aboard. But the other two men, who had climbed to within 80 feet of the rim but were obscured by the dense volcanic gases, were left behind.
By midday Sunday, Mr. Duddy said, he was on the edge of despair and decided to try to climb out. Mr. Benson, who had secured himself in a 2-foot-by-4-foot crevice about 50 feet from Mr. Duddy, decided it was too risky. Thought Companions Had Died
A few hours after Mr. Duddy left, what appeared to be a body came crashing past in the mist. Mr. Benson's heart sank. It was a survival package tossed by rescue workers in a long-shot chance that it would land near Mr. Benson; instead it added to his torture.
"I thought Chris had just bought the farm," Mr. Benson said.
In fact, Mr. Duddy reached the lip of the volcano at 2:30 P.M. on Sunday, 27 hours after the crash. Mr. Benson, who by now thought both of his companions had perished, tried to stave off panic by reciting the alphabet backwards. He prayed. When it rained, he cupped his hands to collect drinking water. But sudden eruptions from the volcano below would send waves of fear.
He said he imagined he saw Pele, the volcano goddess of legend, looking back at him from across the crater.
"I told her that she was not going to take me," Mr. Benson said. "I actually got up and screamed that at her."
By Monday morning, after two days without sleep or food, he thought he had reached his limit.
But at 9 A.M., a helicopter pilot, Tom Hauptman, spotted Mr. Benson through a momentary break in the steam. The fog closed immediately, turning the rescue mission into a tense game of blind man's bluff.
At about 10:45, Mr. Benson was able to scramble into a rescue net.
As he was being lifted to safety, triumph replaced despair. "I turned back to Madame Pele and said, 'You didn't beat me,' " he said. " 'You didn't get me.' "

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