ABSEILING into the fiery depths of a volcano and chasing tornadoes sound like scenes straight out of a gripping action film.
But for Canadian explorer George Kourounis, it’s a lifestyle.
From a young age, George was fascinated by science and nature and developed a taste for daring adventures.
While working as a sound engineer in his 20s, intrepid George would use his holiday days to get to grips with his extreme hobby.
The 53-year-old started off by photographing lightning striking Toronto’s CN Tower – and has now travelled across all seven continents documenting some of the world’s most shocking places.
As George’s antics became more extreme, he began attracting attention.
He told The Sun: “It’s because I was the crazy guy that was heading toward the disaster while millions of people were running away from it.
“And then it just kept snowballing and I got my own TV series, I was the presenter for the Angry Planet show.”
George then quit his job and turned his passion for severe weather and elusive areas into a full-time career.
His impressive resume now includes being one of few people to explore the killer crystal cave in Naica, Mexico, getting married on top of an exploding volcano and abseiling into lava craters.
George’s treacherous feats are countless – and there have been times he’s been within reach of death.
On one fearsome trip, he scaled gigantic icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland in the Atlantic Ocean.
He said: “Let me tell you, if that thing rolls over while you’re on top of it you’re basically being crushed by a block of ice the size of an apartment building.
“One time we got off and onto a small boat back to shore, then less than an hour later we looked out and we could see it had rolled over.
“That was terrifying. Luckily we got out of there in time.”
On another risky exploit, George became the first person to descend into the Darvaza gas crater – a humungous molten pit set in Turkemenistan’s scorching sun-drenched desert.
Illuminated by hundreds of natural gas fires, the pit has been burning and spewing flames for decades.
George said: “I was able to secure permission to stretch ropes across it and then I went out with like a full reflective suit and I was able to drop down and set foot at the centre of this crater completely surrounded by fire.
“My mission was for National Geographic, I was gathering soil samples at the bottom looking for bacterial life that lives in these extreme environments.
“And taking that step off of the edge of the crater, putting all my weight on the ropes, that is super scary because it’s something I’d been working on for about two years, the planning and preparation of this expedition, and it all comes down to that one moment where you have to trust all the equipment, all the set up, all your teammates, and just go for it.”
George openly admits he gets scared “all the time” and has had more close calls than he can count.
He said: “I’ve literally had pieces of lava flying over my head and I’ve watched them fly through the air – watching the trajectory to make sure they don’t hit me.
“I’ve set my boots on fire walking on lava flows, I’ve had the windows smashed out of my vehicle from giant hail stones the size of baseballs, or softballs even larger.
“I’ve had lightning strike so close I’ve felt the heat on the side of my face.”
As a renowned hurricane chaser, George has even put himself right in the eye of the storm multiple times.
He added: “During Hurricane Katrina, I spent seven or eight hours in this storm and it was like the city was in a giant blender full of flying debris and spinning pieces of sheet metal.
“You can hear the entire city around you disintegrating.
“It’s humbling and yes, it can be terrifying.”
But for George fear is a great way to navigate his wild adventures.
He said: “If I’m getting scared then that means I probably need to back off a little bit or I need to double check safety equipment or I need to double check with my team.
“Fear is an indicator that maybe it’s time to pay closer attention – which may involve getting the hell out of there.”
When George wed his wife Michelle back in 2006, the pair shunned a traditional ceremony and instead tied the knot somewhere more unusual – on an active volcano.
The pair – donning a wedding dress and a tuxedo – headed to Vanuatu island Tanna and began married life on the Yasur volcano.
Locals dressed in traditional outfits for the intimate ceremony as plumes of smoke and soaring lava provided the impressive backdrop.
George added: “The Yasur volcano explodes violently, sending pieces of lava flying through the air and it’s been doing that for hundreds of years.
“When I proposed to her, she loved the idea of going to this beautiful, tropical South Pacific island and having our wedding ceremony on this volcano.
“We were at the summit of this volcano and it was literally exploding in the background.
“The best part was after the ceremony, we popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and in the background, the volcano erupted at the exact same time as we popped it.”
Since that day, George has continued on his crazy exploits and says his wife has become “desensitised” to his crazy antics.
He said: “I’m sure she does worry about me, but we’ve been together for a lot of years and she knows that I always put safety first and I always promise to come back in one piece.
“And I’ve been able to keep that promise.
“But she’s so desensitised to my adventures that one day she came home and I said ‘honey, I’m going to go mountain trekking in North Korea’ and she said ‘ok’.
“She didn’t even flinch, not even blink. So I could tell her today that I’m going to the moon tomorrow and she’d be like ‘ok, bring me back something’.
“She couldn’t be more supportive. She knows that I always try to be as safe as I can and she would never stifle that part of me. So I appreciate that tremendously.”
For George, safety is the key to each and every one of his adventures.
He added: “Safe is a relative term. You are never 100 per cent obviously.
“But what I try to do is reduce the risk as much as possible.
“There’s always a teeter-totter, a scale if you will, and you’ve got safety on one side and danger on the other and you’re always trying to balance out that scale.
“If you get too close, if you do something foolish, there could be a hefty price to pay. But if you’re too cautious, you don’t get the shot.”
Thankfully, with 25 years of experience, an abundance of safety equipment and an unbeatable support team, George couldn’t be better prepared.
He added: “All of those things – and I’m touching wood here – they’ve kept me safe all these years.
“I’ve never once had a broken bone, I’ve never had to stay in hospital overnight from any injury.”
But while George has the tools he needs to make his trips a success, he’s given a “don’t try this at home” style warning to those thinking they can do the same.
He said: “But you’re curious about nature and weather and these natural phenomenons then there are ways to ease yourself into it.
“Learn about lightning safety and maybe get yourself a camera and a tripod and maybe try taking pictures of your local storms.
“That’s a good way to start getting into it in a safe manner, do that for a little bit then you can widen your circle if you so wish.
“I strongly recommend not diving in head first and trying to do something that might you in danger.
“If you’re interested in volcanoes, there are a number of places around the world where you can go and witness active volcanoes in a relatively safe manner.”
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