White smoke at Pico Bonito confounds investigators

An expedition attempts to reach the source of smoke arising from Pico Bonito. Rains complicated their efforts. - Photo: Copeco

Honduran authorities are investigating white smoke that has been rising from Pico Bonito mountain near La Ceiba since last week.

A flyover by Honduran armed forces determined the smoke is not the product of fire.

Following further investigation on Monday, authorities told the La Prensa newspaper there was a 60% probability the smoke was the result of hydrothermal activity.

“What we’re looking for is certainty about what types of gases could be emanating or what type of water vapour,” said government geologist Eliseo Silva of the Permanent Contingency Commission, Copeco, on Monday.

“We want to discard that these could be sulpheric gases associated with possible molten activity. We presume this is only water vapour.”

The smoke, reportedly visible throughout the municipality, alarmed locals who feared the occurrence could be the result of volcanic activity.

Safety workers called for the public not to speculate, stating that the evidence did not support the volcano theory.

“For now, it is complicated to say with certain science what is occurring at Pico Bonito. It is possible that it’s not related to volcanic activity, but there will be experts who will evaluate the case. We shouldn’t speculate over what’s happening on social media,” Copeco’s Abraham Mejia told La Prensa on Sunday.

Pico Bonito, located about 10 miles from La Ceiba, is a popular destination for Cayman residents.

An expedition to investigate the smoke was complicated Sunday by a tropical wave that threatened to bring heavy rains and render conditions unsafe for camping. A group of engineers, geologists and first responders had been ascending the mountain by foot.

“In consensus with all of the teams, it was decided to abort the mission because there were [a] few hours of trail left over an inaccessible zone and a tropical wave is expected to enter that will rain over Pico Bonito,” said Copeco Minister Gabriel Rubi in a press statement on Sunday.

“Due to these conditions, it is not possible to camp overnight. The institutions will work on a plan to use helicopters and cameras with very good resolution to take photos with the aim of having a clear view.”

Members of the armed forces were expected to get closer access to the origin of the smoke by flying over the location. Those efforts led to Monday’s announcement that the occurrence was likely water vapour.