- Images taken last Saturday by hiker Izumi Noguchi show the moments immediately after Mount Ontake erupted
- The 59-year-old's body was later found near the volcano's summit shrine compound with his camera close by
- His wife Hiromi has now opted to make the haunting images public as a tribute to her late husband's memory
- Massive eruption left at least 47 people dead, with a further 16 people - the majority hikers - still unaccounted for
These haunting photographs capture the huge cloud of ash from a Japanese volcano that swept towards a hiker just seconds before killing him.
The images - which were taken last Saturday on Mount Ontake - show the moments immediately after the volcano erupted, sending dense plumes of gas and ash high into the sky and leaving at least 47 people dead, with a further 16 people still unaccounted for.
Among the victims of the volcano was 59-year-old hiker Izumi Noguchi, whose body was found near Mount Ontake's summit shrine compound.
Search and rescue teams recovering his body discovered his camera and among the photographs he had taken were images of the a huge cloud of ash creeping ever closer to him following the eruption. His wife Hiromi has now opted to make the images public as a tribute to Mr Noguchi's memory.
The images emerged as doctors determined that almost all of those killed on Mount Ontake died of injuries relating to rocks flying out of the volcano.
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Final photograph: Izumi Noguchi took this incredible photograph of a huge cloud of ash from Japanese volcano Mount Ontake just moments before he was killed. His body and camera were found near Mount Ontake's summit shrine compound
Tragic: Izumi Noguchi's images - which were taken last Saturday on Mount Ontake - show the minutes immediately after the volcano erupted, sending dense plumes of gas and ash high into the sky and leaving at least 47 people dead, with a further 16 people still unaccounted for
Gesture: Among the victims of the volcano was 59-year-old hiker Izumi Noguchi (above) who took the photographs of the ash cloud. His wife Hiromi (below) has now opted to make the images public as a tribute to Mr Noguchi's memory
Rescuers have retrieved 47 bodies from the ash-covered summit area of Mount Ontake since Saturday's eruption. Authorities this morning announced that another 16 people are still missing, with search efforts suspended once again due to rain.
Doctors concluded that all but one of the bodies showed signs of having been hit by volcanic boulders and rocks, Nagano prefectural police said. The other victim died of burn injuries caused by inhaling hot air.
Those hit by the rocks and debris had multiple cuts and fractures, particularly in the head and the back, as well as the legs, a prefectural police official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy. Nagano police had earlier said the victims died of 'disaster,' without specifying the cause.
Most of the bodies were found near Mount Ontake's summit, where many climbers were resting or having lunch. Some bodies were retrieved from a trail at a slightly lower elevation.
Experts say hikers near the summit might have been hit by rocks flying as fast as 190 miles per hour. Most of the ash fell in the first hour of the explosion, according to the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute.
Hunt: These handout pictures made available today show rescuers from Japan's Ground Self-Defence Force walking down a slope covered with deep volcanic ash. Workers have retrieved 47 bodies from the ash-covered summit area of Mount Ontake since Saturday's eruption
Eerie: A handout picture made available today shows a mountain lodge covered with volcanic ash near the peak of Mount Ontake. Authorities this morning announced that 16 people are still missing, with search efforts suspended once again due to rain.
Grim: These images made available today by Japan's Ground Self-Defence were released as doctors confirmed that all but one of the 47 bodies they have recovered showed signs of having been hit by volcanic boulders and rocks. The other victim died as a result of burn injuries caused by inhaling hot air
Survivors said they fled for their lives as rocks and debris rained down on them while they struggled with hot air and ash hitting their face.
Medical experts who have examined some of the nearly 70 injured have said most had bruises, cuts and bone fractures on their back, an apparent sign they were hit by rocks flying out of the volcano. Some of the injured reportedly had damage to their lungs and other organs due to the impact of rocks hitting them.
The eruption at Mount Ontake, located in central Japan, caught hikers by surprise. Seismologists have said that increased seismic activity had been detected at Ontake, one of 47 active volcanoes in Japan that are under 24-hour monitoring, but that nothing signaled such a big eruption.
The death toll is the highest from a volcanic eruption in Japan's postwar history, exceeding the 43 people killed in the 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen in southern Japan.
Ontake, Japan's second-highest active volcano, last had a minor eruption seven years ago. Researchers say predicting a steam-driven explosion is especially difficult - and even harder with limited information about a peak's past volcanic activity.
Japan monitors 47 of its 110 active volcanoes around the clock, but the research budget has always been less than for earthquakes and critics say the equipment is insufficient.
Over the last 10 years, volcano research in government institutions has received an average 1.4 billion yen annually, compared to 7.6 billion yen for earthquake studies, Education Ministry data shows.
'Maintenance of monitoring devices has been delayed, and the equipment is getting old,' Yasuo Ogawa, at the Tokyo Institute of Technology's Volcanic Fluid Research Centre, told Reuters.
Hasegawa, at the Japan Meterological Agency, said he was not aware of budget changes and technology now allows real-time observations from afar. Surveillance was extended in 2009.
Ogawa disagrees. 'I don't think the network is adequate and there aren't enough people,' he said. 'Hopefully, everybody can use this as an opportunity to rethink things.'
PYROCLASTIC FLOWS: A DEADLY AVALANCHE OF GAS AND ROCKS
Pyroclastic flows are one of the most destructive and deadly processes of a volcanic eruption. The flows act and look like a body of liquid but are actually composed of hot gas and rock. Formed inside the volcano by the fragmentation of magma and rocks during the eruption, they travel down the mountain slope at breakneck speeds, often incinerating everything in their path.
The flows act as a fast-moving current and appear similar to a snow avalanche when they burst from the volcano. These flows, composed of volcanic rock debris and toxic gases, are usually deadly as they can reach speeds over 100 km/h and temperatures of 1,000 degrees.
Although they are composed of gas and rock, the properties of pyroclastic flows mean they act more like a liquid. The heavier debris moves along the ground, covered by a gas plume which radiates upwards as it moves. Depending on the size of the rock debris carried within them, they can leave behind deep layers of rock fragments.
The eruption at Mount Ontake likely triggered a pyroclastic surge, although it is thought to have been relatively cold when compared to some other documented flows.
Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo, Shigeo Aramak, told NHK World the colour of the debris clouds seen in the footage of the erupting Mount Ontake showed the temperature was relatively low for a pyroclastic flow, which may mean magma was not present.