White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt recalls a nightmare

White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt recalls a nightmare
White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt recalls a nightmare

One of the Australian survivors of the White Island outbreak last year has revealed that she was not told of the increased risk until it was too late.

Victoria Browitt was one of 47 people on volcanic White Island in New Zealand’s northeastern Bay of Plenty when it erupted last December.

Stephanie, her younger sister, and father decided to take a day trip to the island while cruising on the Ovation of the Seas.

Without knowing it, the island was at level 2 at this point, which indicates moderate to increased volcanic unrest.

Speak with 60 minutesStephanie said she was not told of the increased risk by the cruise ship or tour company until she was already on the island.

“It really hurts and upsets me and frustrates me that we weren’t told,” she said. “It is an important factor in making an informed decision about visiting the island. And it’s just such a huge piece of information that needs to be left out. ”

The volcano erupted shortly after 2 p.m. and caused plumes of ash to fly more than 3 km into the air.

“We saw smoke coming from the crater,” said Stephanie. “And the first thing we did was take a picture without realizing that this was an outbreak and the danger.

“Only a few seconds later we heard the tour guide in front scream: ‘Run! ‘And that’s when we realized crap!

“You could hear the sound of all the stones hitting the ground and people just screamed because nobody knew what to do,” said Stephanie. “Everyone was just petrified. And then when it hit it was just darkness.

“I didn’t think I would survive. I thought I was going to die. It just rolled me around

The force was just so strong that my whole body was pushed and pushed and rolled onto the floor. I only hit things while getting burned at the same time.

“It was the worst moment of my life,” said Stephanie. “The ground burned hot. And I could tell that I was really badly burned. I could see my hand and I could see nails hanging and skin loose. ”

RELATED: Photos Show the Impact of the Volcanic Eruption

Come to the rescue

Two local helicopter pilots, Jason Hill and Tom Storey, were in nearby Whakatane and immediately rushed their helicopter to the scene to help.

They landed safely on White Island about an hour after the eruption, and notified emergency services that the landing was safe.

Whakatane had a fleet of 11 search and rescue helicopters that could have reached White Island in just 20 minutes, but authorities decided not to send them.

“The information we received at the time was that it was unsafe to land on the island,” said Dr. Tony Smith, St. John Medical Director 60 minutes.

Dr. Smith said Jason and Tom’s advice that it was safe to land was somehow lost.

“I wasn’t familiar with this information,” he said. “On that day we received huge amounts of information from several people.”

Stephanie’s father Paul managed to get Jason and Tom’s attention when they landed on the island.

Jason flew Stephanie, her sister Krystal, and their father with two other survivors in his helicopter to Whakatane Hospital.

Unfortunately, Krystal didn’t make it.

“I found out that my sister passed away a few weeks after waking up from the coma,” said Stephanie 60 minutes. “It haunts me not to know what she went through and it annoys me to know I wasn’t with her.”

Four weeks later, Stephanie’s father Paul also died of his injuries.

“It broke me a little,” said Stephanie. “I wish I could thank my father and tell him he is a hero. I wish I could just let him know how amazing his actions were that day.

“Sometimes I just wonder why I’m here. Why was it me of everyone? ”

21 people died as a result of the White Island eruption.


Stephanie has had eight fingers amputated and has performed more than 20 operations since the incident.

She documented her recovery journey on Instagram and shared photos of her shocking injuries.

Now, almost a year later, Stephanie is still upset about the decision not to send the eleven rescue helicopters to Whakatane.

“It’s very annoying just because I know it would definitely have made a difference to a lot of the people who were waiting there,” said Stephanie 60 minutes. “Lives could have been saved that day.”

Dr. Smith now admits they made the wrong call and “may have flown to the island earlier”.

But he firmly believes it wouldn’t have made much difference.

“I am absolutely medically confident that we will unfortunately not save any more people,” he said on the Channel 9 show.

Litigation attorney Peter Gordon is now suing the cruise line Royal Caribbean on behalf of Stephanie.

“Their standard of conduct goes beyond negligence and seems to me to be a willful and reckless indifference to what would happen on this island,” said Gordon 60 minutes.

Royal Caribbean would not comment on the pending litigation, but share it 60 minutes “Your hearts go out to all those affected”.

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