Startling unseen footage has emerged of tourists on White Island being told the risk warning level was increasing just moments before the volcano erupted.
The explosion off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand, claimed the lives of 21 of the 47 people on the island on December 9, 2019.
Melbourne woman Stephanie Browitt, now 24, survived to tell her harrowing near-death story, but her father Paul and younger sister Krystal were among the 17 Australians killed.
Chilling footage from Krystal’s mobile phone taken shortly before the disaster shows gas bubbling from the crater as a concerned guide warned of the imminent danger.
Melbourne woman Stephanie Browitt (left), now-24, survived to tell her harrowing near-death story, but her father Paul and younger sister Krystal (right) were among the 17 Australians killed
Chilling footage from Krystal’s mobile phone taken shortly before the disaster shows gas bubbling from the crater as a concerned guide warned of the imminent danger
Pictured: Stephanie Browitt on White Island just minutes before the volcano erupted
‘The higher the level, the more risk of there is of an eruption,’ the tour guide explained.
‘Level Three is an eruption. So we are on Level Two nearing Level Three right now.’
Ms Browitt recalled island visitors being informed the crater walk would be cut short, which immediately raised concerns.
‘I was very wary and cautious as soon as they mentioned it was a Level Two. I didn’t fully comprehend it as I don’t know much about volcanoes in general,’ she told 60 Minutes.
‘But when he said that we had to walk a bit quicker than usual I was thinking, “Oh, that’s a little weird”.’
Krystal’s phone also captures her final moments alive as the volcano erupted as a man’s voice could be heard yelling ‘run’.
‘That’s when we realised … [and I made] a split-second decision to just bolt,’ Ms Browitt recalled.
‘It was just rolling me over, the force was just that strong, that my whole body was being shoved and pushed and rolled onto the ground.
Krystal’s phone also captures her final moments alive as the volcano erupted as a man’s voice could be heard yelling ‘run’. Pictured: Krystal and Stephanie posing for a photo before the eruption
Ms Browitt believes she wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for hero helicopter pilots Jason Hill and Tom Storey (pictured) who rushed to the island following the eruption
‘I thought I was going to die.
‘The ground was burning hot. And I could tell I was burnt really badly. I could see my hand and I could see nails hanging off and skin loose.’
Ms Browitt said she was angry they weren’t informed by the cruise ship or the tour operators of the dangers prior to arriving on the island.
‘It really hurts and upsets me and frustrates me that we weren’t told,’ she said.
‘It’s a major factor in making an informed decision about going on the island and visiting it. And it’s just such a huge piece of information to be left out.’
Ms Browitt, 24, has since undergone 20 operations after she suffered third degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her finger in the eruption.
She believes she wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for hero helicopter pilots Jason Hill and Tom Storey who rushed to the island following the eruption.
Ms Browitt, 24, has since undergone 20 operations after she suffered third degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her finger in the eruption
Matthew and Lauren urey
The pilots were then told medical help wouldn’t be arriving as the island was deemed too unsafe.
‘We just figured we had to do something and get those people off the island. We were going to one way or another,’ Mr Storey said.
Ms Browitt’s injured father Paul attracted the pilots’ attention but told them to save his daughters first.
A badly burnt but still conscious Stephanie still remembers the flight back to New Zealand’s mainland.
‘My body just wanted to shut down but the pilot kept on saying stay awake, stay awake,’ she said
‘I thought to myself if I close my eyes, I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up.’
‘Those helicopter pilots are heroes because that’s not their job. They didn’t sign up for that. And they still chose to put their lives at risk for us.’
Stephanie Browitt (pictured right before the volcano eruption ) has recalled the harrowing moment she was forced to run for life. Her sister Krystal (left) was killed in the eruption
She was placed in coma in hospital and didn’t find out until she woke up a few weeks later that her sister hadn’t made it.
‘It upsets me knowing what she went through that I wasn’t there with her and I wish I could have been there for her last moments,’ she said
Their father died from his injuries a month after the disaster.
St John Medical Director Dr Tony Smith has since admitted emergency crews should have flown to the island sooner.
But he doesn’t believe more lives would have been saved.
‘But had we gone to the island sooner, I’m absolutely medically confident… unfortunately we were not going to save any more additional people,’ Mr Smith told the program.
But Ms Browitt disagrees.
‘It’s very upsetting just because I know it definitely would have made a difference for a lot of the people that were there that were waiting,’ Stephanie told 60 Minutes. ‘Lives could have been saved that day.’
Others survivors saw their families wiped out, others suffered excruciating burns to nearly all of their bodies while many have undergone dozens of surgeries or spent time in comas.
Stephanie (left) lost also lost her dad Paul (right) who later died from his injuries in hospital
Matt and Lauren Urey before they were caught up in the White Island eruption
Some are adamant more lives could have been saved that day.
American newlyweds Matt and Lauren Urey were part of a tour group exploring White Island on their honeymoon.
They were forced to flee for their lives and sought shelter behind a rock near the water as the dark cloud of volcanic gas quickly enveloped the island.
The couple spent almost two months recovering from their injuries in separate hospitals.
They returned to the United States at the end of January and were treated in hospital until their release in mid-February.
They still bear some of the scars and compression garments.
Mrs Urey is angry more medical staff weren’t flown to the island
The White Island volcano disaster (pictured) claimed 21 lives, including 17 Australians
‘It infuriates me. I mean, that’s their job to rescue, and they were told not to.’
Fellow survivor John Cozad, 73 who lost his son Christopher, 43, in the disaster agreed.
‘If they had have sent two or three helicopters, a lot more people would been alive, including Christopher,’ he said.
Mr Cozad wishes it was him who died in the tragedy rather than his son.
‘Oh, I don’t blame myself, but, but yeah, I feel I should have been the one passed, and not him, but I had nothing to do with it,’ he said.
Day tours out to the island once brought in more than $4million a year but it is now deserted, with the layers of ash a reminder of the disaster.
Marie, Paul, Krystal and Stephanie Browitt before the White Island disaster ripped the family apart