Six volcanologists and three tourists were killed in the crater of Galeras Volcano, Colombia, when it erupted without warning. The scientists were attending the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction Workshop which had been convened to improve monitoring, research and disaster mitigation at Galeras, at the time the most active and one of the most hazardous volcanoes in South America. Information on the events surrounding the eruption was obtained by sending a questionnaire to twelve scientists who had been inside the caldera at the time of the eruption or who had assisted in the search and rescue operation. The autopsy reports on the five corpses, and the few pieces of equipment and clothing retrieved from the crater area, were also studied. The main causes of death and injury were the forces at the eruptive vent and the bombardment by hot rocks ejected in the first 15 min of the eruption, ranging from blocks over 1 m in size to pea-sized lapilli which fell last. Some conclusions can be drawn for the future safety of volcanologists working in craters at high altitude. Hard hats would protect against concussion from blows to the head during escape from the danger area, and a lightweight, heat-resistant and water-repellent coverall would limit the skin burns and the risk of clothing being ignited from contact with incandescent, falling ejecta. The coverall could also be life saving by protecting immobilised casualties from hypothermia due to the rain and wind whilst waiting to be rescued, especially as the volcanic activity, cloud cover or nightfall could curtail rescue efforts. Work in hazardous craters should be strictly limited to essential tasks and periods of good visibility, and a climbing team should leave the area at least four hours before nightfall in case rescue is needed. Tourists must be warned against visiting active crater areas.