It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Jan 30, 2013

Most Famous April 1 Volcano Eruption Pranks

Back in 1980, a local news station in Boston decided to pull the classic April Fools' joke, "Make People Flee in Fear for Their Lives."

The Channel 7 news in Boston ended with a special bulletin announcing that a 635-foot hill in Milton, Massachusetts, known as the Great Blue Hill (known as a popular local ski resort), had erupted, and that lava and ash were raining down on nearby homes. Footage was shown of lava pouring down a hillside, which was actually compiled from film clips filmed on the March 27, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. The announcer explained that the eruption had been triggered by a geological chain reaction set off by the recent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, giving at least some credit to the responsible party. An audio tape was played of President Carter and the Governor of Massachusetts declaring the eruption to be a "serious situation."

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At the end of the segment, the reporter held up a sign that read "April Fool." But by that time local authorities had already been flooded with frantic phone calls from Milton residents. One man, for example, who got believed that his house would soon be engulfed by lava, had carried his sick wife outside in order to escape. The Milton police continued to receive worried phone calls well into the night. Channel 7 was so embarrassed by the panicked reaction that they apologized for the confusion later that night.

“All I know is, we had people crying,” a police lieutenant told a reporter, pointing out that many local residents were not so amused by the hoax.

The producer behind the prank was fired, and the FCC got on their case for "showing library film footage without identifying it as such," which is FCC code for "What the fuck were you guys thinking?"

But if you think their prank was really missing a core - an actual, physical, simulated volcano eruption - you are right.

Maybe they should have learned from Sitka, Alaska resident Oliver (Porky) Bickar, who, six years earlier, managed to pull off a much more elaborate and better thought out prank. In 1974, after 3 years of planning, on April Fools' Day, he used a rented helicopter to carry a hundred old tires, rags, fuel, oil and smoke bombs to an extinct volcanic crater called Mount Edgecumbe on uninhabited Kruzof Island in Alaska, where he wrote "April Fool" in giant letters in the snow before setting all of that on fire.

When he lit the tires on fire, people in Sitka, a town on the closest island, took serious note, wondering if the volcano, extinct for 4,000 years, had suddenly erupted. When residents saw a thick column of black smoke, drifting up from the local volcano, they got understandably terrified, also fleeing their homes and calling the authorities.

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We know what you're thinking: When a wacky prank gets pulled, the cops are immediately going to go looking for the guy named "Porky." But here's the twist: They already knew about it.

That is right. Porky had made all of the proper arrangements including contacting the FAA and the local police department. He contacted helicopter pilots and explained what he wanted to do. Three were not a fan of the idea and turned him down. With the help of a friend named Harry Sulser, a friend and local bar owner, Porky found Earl Walker who loved the idea.

Although Porky had remembered to notify both the FAA and the Sitka Police (he was a member of the police commission), he somehow forgot to notify the Coast Guard. While Mt. Edgecumbe was busy spewing out its black smoke, the Coast Guard Commander called for a chopper to investigate and sent a whale boat over to check things out. The chopper pilot radioed back to the commander that all he saw was a bunch of smoldering tires and a big April Fool sign in the snow. This was after the commander had called the Admiral in Juneau about the apparent crisis.

Jimmy Johnson, Vice President of Alaska Airlines, had also heard about Mt. Edgecumbe's activity, and called Sitka to instruct their departing plane to fly over the mountain to give all the passengers a bird’s eye view of it all. And, in the meantime, the Sitka radio station and police station phones were ringing off the hook.

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