One man was killed and at least 11 people injured, some critically, when rocks from an erupting volcano rained down on skiers at a mountain resort in central Japan on Tuesday and, soon after the eruption, an avalanche engulfed about a dozen skiers.
Seven of those struck by rocks were members of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (SDF) training for winter maneuvers, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
A 49-year-old male soldier who suffered broken bones died later, said Wataru Tatsukawa, an official at the regional military training camp.
Japanese media reportedly said up to 12 people were injured, many apparently hit by volcanic rocks. Two were critically injured and three seriously, national broadcaster NHK said.
One person was trapped in the avalanche for some time before being dug out by rescuers.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has since banned access to the mountain, and a large swath of the snow-capped volcano was covered by dark gray ash later in the day.
The agency said the eruption and the avalanche could not be linked immediately. Snow conditions and seismic activity are some of the potential causes of an avalanche.
Officials in the town believe everybody has been accounted for.
The ski area's gondola was suspended after the eruption and about 80 skiers took refuge at a gondola station at the top of the ski slope, according to a fire department official.
A military helicopter airlifted the first group of eight skiers to safer ground, according to footage shown by NHK public television.
The slopes were filled with volcanic ash and rocks and rescuers were considering whether using snowmobiles to reach the stranded skiers was safe.
Kusatsu-Shirane last erupted in 1983.
Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. An eruption of Mount Ontake in 2014 killed about 60 people. Several other Japanese volcanoes are considered unstable with small eruptions in recent years.