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So you want to be a volcanologist - be afraid, very afraid!
on 19 August 2015
I have refrained from commenting about the Galeras tragedy for many years. I personally knew several of those involved and it still pains many of us that someone who claims to be interested in saving life was so reckless with the lives of others. Williams for a long time after claimed that he and he alone survived Galeras's explosion and even went so far as to refer to others who had survived as liars. I don't like his book for it is record of someone who seeks glory for himself. What came out of the incident (which Williams tries to claim as his doing) - was several mandatory requirements for volcanologists when working on or near active volcanoes. A hard hat and fire-proof clothing (which Williams considered "Sissy"), a radio system to enable people to keep in contact, early entry into a crater and restricted time spent in it, and out before dark, a First Aid kit and training in treating burns, a record of who entered the crater, the numbers entering the crater restricted and most of all a check before on the seismic record. Williams KNEW that "Tornillo's" - long period seismic signals that resemble a tapering screw were being observed - but he failed to disclose their existence to others, but he claimed that no seismic indications were observed which has since been proved to be wrong - He knew!. Even though the science behind the tornillo's was in its infancy it had been shown to be accurate in indicating that a volcano was about to explode. His own ego would not let him contact the one person who could have clarified the situation, even if he didn't want to he could have asked someone else to make that contact, but he didn't! The science did not suit Williams - so in a typical manner it became "NOT DISCOVERED / INVENTED BY ME, THEREFORE OF NO USE." My own opinion is that Williams is a disgrace to the scientific community, he should have been stripped of all academic appointments, he should have faced a trial and been made to explain why he as leader of the expedition ended up with 9 people dead. He has to live with his actions. This book should be in every volcanologist's library as a lesson on how not to organise a field trip. For anyone contemplating a career as a volcanologist this book should be compulsory reading and you should be able to recite the reasons why it went so tragically and horribly wrong. The lesson of Galeras is simple - treat all volcanoes with respect. If you want a true and detached account of the tragedy I would recommend that you read "No Apparent Danger" by Victoria Bruce.