(dailymail) A group of 90 schoolchildren fled from a volcano in New Zealand dubbed ‘Mount Doom’ featured in Lord of the Rings after it erupted today.
An ash plume more than 5,280ft high was seen emitting from the Te Maari crater on Tongariro Mountain there was a thick smell of sulphur in the air making it difficult to breathe.
The pupils from Napier, who were walking the Tongariro track with six parents and four teachers, are believed to be safe along with other hikers despite being less than a mile from the eruption.
Tamatea Intermediate School teacher Lomi Schaumkel said: ‘We were right up there next to it. It was just amazing.
‘We were probably only a kilometre away from it. We were right next to one of the signs saying we were out of the danger zone.
‘We saw all these tourists running away from it. We didn’t stick around long.’
A further 20 pupils from Gulf Harbour School in Whangaparoa with parents and guides were also just 820 yards from where the crater erupted.
Conservation Department area manager Jonathan Maxwell said 30 to 50 people were being evacuated from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track and that no injuries had been reported.
State highways in the area have also been closed.
Two bus drivers from Nimon and Sons, who drove the Napier pupils to the mountain, had reported back to their base that they could see an ash plume one mile high, a spokesman said.
GNS Science confirmed that the eruption at the crater happened shortly after 1.20pm today. It is the second eruption on the mountain this year after an eruption on August 6.
The Department of Conservation had previously warned hikers to avoid the summit of Mount Ruapehu.
They said that temperature readings by scientists indicated there was an increased risk of eruption at New Zealand’s largest active volcano.
GNS had said that temperatures below a lake in the crater of the North Island indicated a vent was partially blocked, leading to increased pressure that made eruptions more likely ‘over the next weeks to months’.
The eruption lasted for about five minutes and the GNS has updated the alert on Tongariro to level two indicating ‘minor eruptive activity’.
Airline Air New Zealand have cancelled flights between Taupo and Wellington because of the volcanic activity and the aviation colour code was raised to red which meant there was a ‘significant emission of ash’ in the atmosphere.
An Air New Zealand spokesman said the airline was working with the Civil Aviation Authority and the MetService to monitor the ash cloud.
Nearby Lake Rotoaira resident Robyn Bennett said there was a big black ash cloud over her house, about a mile from the eruption site.
She said: ‘It just blew her stack. It’s hard to breathe if you go outside, it’s pushing out quite heavily.’
Ms Bennett said she did not hear the eruption but it looked like a new vent had formed in front of a previous eruption crater. The ash cloud was seen moving east towards Napier and Taupo.
Ann Lambert, owner of the Rainbow Motel at Tokaanu, near Turangi, said she had not heard any noise, unlike the previous time Tongariro erupted when there had been a ‘huge loud noise’.
She said: ‘We weren’t aware it had happened. We just looked up and saw it.’
A national advisory has been issued by Civil Defence saying regions from Waikato down to Hawke’s Bay could be affected by ash cloud.
The eruption in August sent a plume of ash 20,000ft into the atmosphere, showering the North Island and disrupting domestic air travel.
The 2,797m (9,177ft) mountain also erupted in 2007, sending a lahar – a fast-moving stream of mud and debris – down the mountain but causing no injuries.
In 1953, a massive lahar from the mountain caused New Zealand’s worst rail disaster when it washed away a bridge at Tangiwai and a passenger train plunged into the Whangaehu River, claiming 151 lives.
Director Peter Jackson used Mount Ruapehu and the neighbouring Mount Ngauruhoe to depict Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movies.