The international team of 12 scientists and 14 crew had just returned from the Solomon Islands, 1,860 miles northeast of Sydney, where they had studied what they thought would be a dormant underwater volcano called Kavachi.
Instead, they were treated to a rare show with Kavachi spewing molten ash 150 feet into the air every five minutes of their 20-hour visit.
It was totally unexpected, the chance of a lifetime really, said Dr. Brent McInnes, an exploration and mining geologist with the Australian research organization CSIRO.
We arrived at the seamount site to find waves breaking on the volcanic peak.
The peak of the volcano, 2,100 feet above the sea bed, was forming a sandy ashen beach, McInnes said.
The geologists were able to get their boat within 750 yards of the eruption center, 20 miles from the closest island, in the western Solomons.
People have seen it erupt before, although mostly airline pilots, amateur scientists or just people passing by ... this was its first scientific systemic study, McInnes said.
© 2000, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed