'Crater like Empire State Bldg': US daredevil recalls hanging over scorching lake of lava

'Crater like Empire State Bldg': US daredevil recalls hanging over scorching lake of lava
One of the two Americans who stepped inside the lava filled volcano crater in Vanuatu described his experience to RT as “exhilarating” despite the skin-burning acid rain and a splash of lava, which burned a hole in his jacket.

George Kourounis is no stranger to danger: as well as an adventurer, he is a storm chaser and television presenter, best known for the series Angry Planet. As well as dangling inside volcanoes, he specializes in documenting natural disasters and extreme weather.

“Well actually I do this kind of thing all the time, I’m a professional adventurer and very experienced explorer. I’ve repelled into numerous volcanoes all over the world. I have been chasing tornadoes for 16 years and I drive into the eye of hurricanes. So this was just the latest experience in a very long career in doing some pretty crazy things involving the extremes of the natural world,” Kourounis told RT.

George and his fellow adventurer Sam Cossman were helped by two guides who spent four days on the volcano. More people have been to the moon than the crater in Vanuatu.

“There was a team of about six of us there on the volcano and it required a lot of infrastructure being in place. We had a big camp set up at the summit of the Volcano. We had to be helicoptered in. Ropes had to be set up and getting down to the bottom of the crater is about 400 meters deep, which is about the same depth as the Empire State building is high so it’s a lot of preparation,” Kourounis explained.

Although Kourounis has a passion for death defying experiences, even he admitted that going to the edge of the Marum volcano was exhilarating and intense.

“I wouldn’t say it was scary, it was exhilarating for me. I love doing this kind of thing so I was very excited to be able to go down into this volcano. I’ve known about it for over a decade. This volcano had a very persistent lake of lava and I’ve wanted to go there for so long. Everything came together and I was able to arrange the opportunity to go and get down as close as humanly possible, and as you can see it was absolutely dramatic.”

George Kourounis (AFP Photo / Carlo Allegri)

He came so close to the lava that some of it splashed onto his jacket, where it melted a hole and even part of one his cameras was damaged by the scorching lava. But he still managed to film his experience and posted a YouTube video on September 4.

“It was so spectacular and it was very surreal, it’s a landscape that you don’t normally see. There are no trees; it’s all rock and volcanic ash and this boiling lake of lava. And when you’re down at the bottom, there is so much toxic gas coming from the lava that you have to wear a mask and you’re getting acid rain on you because the gas interacts with the rain coming down. So the acid rain is burning your skin and stinging your eyes and then the heat when you get up to the edge is so unbearable that without my silver protective heat suit I couldn’t stand at the edge for more than about 4 or 5 seconds. So it’s so many extremes all coming together in one place.It’s the kind of location I love to visit but I don’t want to stay for there for very long!”

Some of Kourounis’ other adventures include documenting mountain gorillas in Rwanda and filming forest fires and great white sharks. For the rest of this year, he’s got trips to Madagascar and Iceland planned.

“I’m always trying to find the newest and latest, greatest expedition for me to go on. Last year I did an exposition with National Geographic Society into a flaming gas crater in Turkmenistan. This year it was the epic volcano expedition. In October, I’m going to Madagascar to look for undiscovered cave systems and then in December I’m off to Iceland to lead a northern lights trip. So I’ve got a whole bunch of trips coming up.”