Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala: Great Aerial Photography

There is no better opportunity to see nature’s mighty forces than sitting comfortably and safely in your airline seat watching the scene unfolds. This is exactly what happened to a pilot on November 20, 2018, during the moment Volcan de Fuego started rupturing, which resulted in this article’s great aerial photography!

The story behind the aerial photography

Any traveler would love to be at the right place at the right time, as nature’s events unfold. And, if you are? A chance in a lifetime to capture the PERFECT moment for a great picture!

The aerial photography you see in this story shows when Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) in Guatemala was beginning to erupt. It was taken on an airline flight en route to the U.S. by Captain Sam Laundry, who has generously allowed Captain Jetson to feature it in this article.

The aerial photography ended up becoming an award-picture in the Airline Pilot Magazine. The magazine is a monthly issue published by the renowned Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). ALPA, a strong and proud pilot’s Union represents the majority of U.S. airline pilots.


Volcan de Fuego is located about 9.9 miles, or 16 kilometers west of Antigua, which is Guatemala’s top tourist destination. The volcano’s distance from Guatemala’s capital Guatemala City is 27.3 miles or 44 kilometers.

Volcano type

The volcano is a type that stays active almost continuously. One can expect minor eruptions of gas and ashes once every 15 to 20 minutes. Larger eruptions don’t happen often.

The elevation of the volcano is 12,346 feet or 3,763 meters.

Early exploration

The earliest exploring of this volcano started in 1881 when a Frenchman climbed the volcano. The Frenchman, a writer, with the name Eugenio Dussaussay got permission to climb the peak from the governor of the Sacatepequez-region of Guatemala.

Since the volcano’s central peak had a recent larger eruption in 1881 Dussaussay and his climbing companion Tadeo Trabanino were not able to find any local guide willing to do the climb with them.

Thus they ascended the dangerous climb to the central peak on their own.

British archeologist Alfred Percival Maudslay subsequently ascended the volcano in 1892. he later featured his story in his report “A Glimpse at Guatemala”.

Vulcan of Fire 1899, Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala Aerial Photography
This is an 1899 photograph of the Volcan de Fuego summit. It was taken by Alfred Percival Maudslay.

Eruptions and evacuations since 1932

  • November 20, 2018: Approximately 4,000 people were evacuated from nearby communities. This was done as a preventive measure from the increased possibility of a larger eruption occurring.
  • June 3, 2018: This eruption resulted in at least 159 deaths and at least 300 injuries. Guatemala City Airport (GUA) ended up closing from the dangers of falling ash.
  • February 8, 2015: Guatemala City Airport was closed because of falling ash. 100 residents had to be evacuated.
GUA airport terminal
GUA Airport Terminal.
  • September 13, 2012: A massive evacuation of thousands of people took place when a violent eruption of lava and ash began. About 33,000 residents had to leave their homes in 17 different villages close to the volcano. The lava flow ejection only reached about 2,000 feet down the volcano’s slope, saving the villages further down, for this time.
  • August 9, 2007: Seven families were evacuated from their homes when the volcano began showing activity. Fortunately, this eruption never developed into anything more than a small one.
  • July 1-6, 2004: Small eruptions, but internal explosions, which sounded terrifying to people in the surrounding areas.
  • October 15-21 1974: Heavy agricultural losses incurred after a strong eruption. The lava wiped out all the vegetation in the vicinity of the active volcanic cone.
  • 1932: The volcano had a strong eruption that engulfed the city of Antigua in ash.

More stunning (ground-level) photos

If you want to follow Eugenio Dussaussay and Alfred Maudsley’s footsteps you can actually tour Volcan de Fuego yourself! The volcano has its own website, where you can get more information.

Of course, you won’t be admiring this majestic sight from the comfort and safety of your airline seat, but if you feel more inclined to experience potential danger adventure I would definitely recommend a tour there!

Have you captured any great aerial photography you would like to share with Captain Jetson? Please send your picture here!

Updated August 29, 2020.

Featured Image: Captain S. Landry.

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