Tess Nichol is the Consumer Affairs reporter for the Herald.

Honeymooners describe rescuers as 'true heroes'

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Panagiota and Mathew Stone on their wedding day.
Panagiota and Mathew Stone on their wedding day.

A newly-wed American couple had a "surreal" start to their honeymoon when the boat they were on caught fire, one day after they arrived in New Zealand to begin their holiday.

Mathew and Panagiota Stone were on board the White Island Tours boat to see the volcano after their original plan, to go diving, was cancelled due to bad weather.

The pair were married in Jacksonville, Florida, in mid-November last year and planned to spend just over a week in New Zealand before travelling on to Tahiti.

Mr Stone said they would still explore the North and South Islands until next Tuesday as planned.

"I wouldn't say it's put us off New Zealand. We've been absolutely in awe driving from Auckland to Whakatane, it's such a beautiful place," he said.

"Because we were able to get out of it without any harm or loss of anything of value it just seems like an adventure. I'd say we're probably more endeared to the country than ever before."

Mr Stone admitted he was "very frightened" when he saw how big the fire was and how quickly it was spreading.

"[We were] incredibly scared. We thought at any time the boat was going to explode. That was the big concern."

Mr Stone said he grabbed his wife as they decided who would jump first. She told him she wanted it to be him.

"We were holding on to each other and I kept telling her 'we're going to be okay, we're going to be okay'. I was confident I could jump but I was worried she might not, so once I hit the water I just sat there and waited, praying in my head she was going to clear the boat [waiting below], land safely."

The captain helped Mrs Stone to jump, throwing her over the side and she and her husband clambered on to a fishing boat.

Mr Stone said he wanted to thank the people in the fishing boat who pulled them out of the ocean to safety.

"The people who helped us did so without regard to their own safety and that was pretty amazing. I only wish I had their names or at least the name of the boat. They are true heroes."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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