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Courtesy Craig Chilton

'Sheer panic set in': Utahn describes chaos at top of Indonesian volcano when quake hit

By Tania Dean, KSL TV | Posted - Aug. 6, 2018 at 8:05 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah man was stuck on the top of a volcano when a massive earthquake struck an island in Indonesia.

Rescuers are still digging through the rubble in search of survivors after a 7.0 earthquake killed at least 98 people Sunday. More than 200 others were hurt and at least 20,000 people are now homeless, according to authorities.

That earthquake struck the island of Lombok. Just a week before, the same area was hit by a 6.4-magnitude quake. Craig Chilton, from Utah, was on top of a volcano on the island when it happened.

Chilton grew up in Bountiful and attended BYU. He’s lived in Thailand with his family for the past year. A week ago, he traveled to Indonesia and hiked to the top of Mt. Rinjani. That’s when he thought he was going to die.

“It’s a little over 12,000 feet in elevation gain, and it’s pretty much straight up the whole way,” Chilton told KSL through a Facetime interview Monday. “The hike is definitely a grueling trek.”

Climbing Mt. Rinjani had always been on Chilton’s bucket list. The two-day trek to the rim of the crater isn’t for the faint of heart, but as Chilton’s photos show, hundreds of people attempt it every weekend.

“By the time I got up to the summit, there were already 150 to 200 people that were up at the summit too. With that many people in such a small space it was pretty packed in,” said Chilton.

Chilton made it to the very top of the volcano, but minutes after he snapped a few photos of the sunrise, disaster struck.

“All of a sudden it felt like someone just came and shoved you,” Chilton said.

The quake threw Chilton and other hikers to the ground.

“Sheer panic set in. I thought the volcano was actually erupting and this was the end,” remembered Chilton. “This was the way I was going to die.”

The earthquake only lasted seconds, but Chilton was traumatized by what he saw.

“The summit was literally falling apart during that 10 seconds. As I looked around, people were falling off the edges,” said Chilton. “In that moment, I was convinced I was watching people fall to their deaths.”

As soon as the shaking stopped, Chilton found his guide and the two men ran down the mountain. Two large aftershocks also struck, but the pair managed to make it to safety. It was nearly 10 hours before Chilton could contact his wife and kids and let them know he was safe.

“On the way up, I was thinking how I’ve got to come back with my wife. I was thinking about if my 8-year-old would be old enough for it,” said Chilton. “But I’m going to keep my distance from volcanoes for a while.”

At least 16 people were killed in that earthquake, but authorities say only one was a hiker on Mt. Rinjani. Chilton said the trail was closed down afterward, which he believes prevented more casualties from Sunday’s 7.0 earthquake.

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Tania Dean

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