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Whakaari / White Island rescue: Tourists were screaming, others were in shock - witness
10:49 pm GMT+12, 09/12/2019, New Zealand

A group of tourists on a boat and private helicopters came to the rescue in the immediate aftermath of the White Island eruption yesterday afternoon

 Police do not believe there are any survivors on Whakaari/White Island, as eight people are confirmed missing after yesterday's eruption.

 Waikato Police Superintendent Bruce Bird said eight people were missing; 47 people went on to the island, five are confirmed dead, 31 are in hospital and three have been discharged.

 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praised the efforts of the local community in a press conference this morning.

 Two private helicopters were able to land and rescue survivors along with a volcanic air helicopter. There was another helicopter in the vicinity that was unable to land.

 One Westpac helicopter landed on the island and was able to transport survivors back to the mainland.

 "In the immediate aftermath a number of helicopters made a deliberate decision to fly to rescue the survivors."

 "I want to thank the courageous decision made by first responders and those pilots in their immediate rescue effort made an incredibly brave decision under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in an attempt to get people out," Ardern said.

 "As a results of their efforts, a number of people were rescued from the island."

 A tourist boat also travelled to the island and rescued people stranded on the jetty at White Island.

This hand out photograph courtesy of Michael Schade shows White Island Tour operators rescuing people minutes after the volcano on New Zealand's White Island erupted on December 9, 2019.

 Passenger Michael Shade told the Guardian the skipper of the boat had put on speed to get away from the volcano, but after the smoke cleared and they could see a crowd of people and decided to return.

 He said some of the tourists were screaming and others were in shock.

 "Some people had pockets of burns, other people were fine, and others were really rough," he told the Guardian.

 Halfway back to mainland, a coastguard vessel met the boat and paramedics came on board.

 Westpac Rescue Helicopter senior pilot James Taylor said two helicopters joined the rescue operation and a third was used to transport blood from the Auckland blood bank down to Whakatāne and was later used to move patients between hospitals.

 He said the biggest concern was whether it was a one-off event or there would be another eruption.

 "The crews planned quite carefully where they thought the safest place on the island was, as far away from the crater as possible and upwind of any ash or debris," he told Nine to Noon.

 "They had to consider it quite carefully to balance the risk to the crews and helicopters against the benefit of helping any potential casualties,"  Taylor said.

 Taylor said that from his understanding, it was a tourist boat that provided the first assistance to the survivors on the island.

 Phil van Dusschoten from Diveworks Charters Fishing and Diving, who has extensive experience of White Island and the tourism there, said the entire community moved to provide assistance where they could.

 "Nothing can really prepare you for a significant steam eruption like this, but I think the training to all those involved and the attempts to assist and recover people and get them medical assistance as soon as possible, the community really banded together," he told Nine to Noon.

 Ardern said there were two groups on the island - those who were able to be evacuated and those close to the eruption.

 Among those injured or missing are people from Australia, U.S, UK, China, Malaysia, as well as New Zealand.

 Rescue helicopters, the police Eagle helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption, and further reconWnaissance flights will be undertaken this morning.

SOURCE: RNZ


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