By Julian Robinson
Three members of the same family have died after falling into a 1000C volcanic crater near Naples, Italy.
The tragedy unfolded when the older son, Lorenzo, walked into a prohibited area at Solfatara and stumbled into the crater, the Daily Mail reported.
The boy's father, Massimiliano Carrer, from Meolo in northern Italy, then attempted to save his son, only for the ground to give way under him, causing him to fall into a 1.5m crater and be overcome by fumes.
Finally the mother, Tiziana Zaramella, 42, rushed in to save them, only to suffer the same fate when the crater collapsed.
The steamy volcanic fields at Solfatara are scorching hot only a few centimetres below the surface. They family are understood to have died of asphyxia, possibly because of hot gases.
However, the official cause of death will be determined by an autopsy.
Another of the couple's sons, 7-year-old Alessio, survived amid reports he was able to scramble to safety.
The devastating tragedy befell the family as they were enjoying the final day of their holiday before their young sons were due to return to school tomorrow.
Local reports have named the victims as engineer Massimiliano Carrer, his wife and Venice Airport worker Tiziana Zaramella and their son Lorenzo.
Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said: "Either there was a small explosion, or the ground simply gave way from their weight, and they fell into this hole. It was inside a fenced-off area."
However, separate reports claim the boy did not enter the prohibited area at all.
Eyewitnesses reported arriving at the scene to find a young boy crying and asking for help. Emergency crews descended on the site within minutes.
The 7-year-old boy was said to be in "great shock". The owner of a bar at the entrance to the volcanic site said he "kept asking where his family was".
Diego Vitagliano said: "I saw a child run crying, I did not think I was facing the worst tragedy of my life.
"I was at the Solfatara for work. Along with other visitors we realised that something had happened and we approached the crater. I did not imagine what I would see.
"They pulled out two bodies, then pulled us away. I continue to think about that family and that poor baby crying and asking for help."
The Solfatara volcano is one of many volcanic craters in the Campi Flegrei area, about 20km west of Naples, which first opened up to tourists in 1900, according to its website.
Heavy rain in recent days may have also played a role by creating more openings in the volcanic field's surface.
The accident happened at the Bocca Grande (Big Mouth), the largest of the fumaroles in the area, which the ancient Romans called the home of the god of fire.
The ground at the site emits water vapours of 160C and gases including poisonous hydrogen sulphide, the website said.
The area the family was visiting is also known for a type of quicksand and is prone to crumbling, it has been reported.
Vincenzo Figliolia, the local mayor, said he was "upset" by the tragedy adding: "I express my closeness from the community of Pozzuoli to the family of the victims."
The mud pools and jets of gas above Italy's supervolcano
The Solfatara of Pozzuoli is one of a sprawling constellation of ancient volcanoes that make up the Campi Flegrei supervolcano, an area north of Naples in southwestern Italy.
The 33ha site sits in a shallow volcanic crater and has become popular with tourists who flock to see mud pools, sulphurous fumes and emissions of steam.
It last erupted in 1198 - but more recently the ground around Naples has shown signs that the wider supervolcano range may be preparing to erupt again.
Geologists monitor the area by checking temperatures and chemically analysing gases, determining that the fields had risen by about 30cm over a decade.
The wider Campi Flegrei crater was formed 39,000 years ago in a blast that threw hundreds of cubic kilometres of lava, rock and debris into the air.
It was the largest eruption in Europe in the past 200,000 years, according to scientists.
Campi Flegrei last erupted in 1538, though on a much smaller scale.
However, unrest since the 1950s has been causing a build-up of energy in the crust and making the volcano more vulnerable to eruption.
Until now, scientists had thought that the energy needed to stretch the crust was lost after each period of unrest.
The episodes of unrest are caused by the movement of magma about 3km below the volcano.
An eruption becomes more likely when the ground has been stretched to its breaking point because the molten rock can escape to the surface when the ground splits apart.
But it is difficult to pinpoint when an eruption will occur, because even if the ground breaks, magma can stall before reaching the surface.