At first it's only a plume of smoke and steam in the distance.

But as the Westpac Rescue Helicopter gets closer to Whakaari/White Island, the extent of the eruption becomes clearer.

The huge white cloud continues to billow from the crater, and a flyover shows sediment streaming hundreds of metres out into the ocean.

The chopper lands in a moonscape of thick ash, the chopper's blades whipping up clouds of dust.

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Two crew members are left on the ground unloading rescue equipment; they duck their heads and try to keep the ash out of their faces as the chopper climbs back into the air.

The footage also shows a building that appears to be damaged and half-buried in ash.

In photos shot by the crew people are visible standing the beach, standing on the edge of a rock- and ash-strewn landscape.

Survivors of the eruption visible from the cockpit of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust
Survivors of the eruption visible from the cockpit of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

An Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter Trust spokesman said the first crew had left for Whakaari/White Island at 2.40pm; the second at 2.45pm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning a Westpac helicopter had landed on the island and was able to transport survivors back to the mainland. That helicopter was not from Auckland, according to an Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust spokesman.

Two private choppers and one Volcanic Air helicopter had also been sent to the scene after the eruption, with one of those able to rescue people.

Ardern called those first responders "courageous", saying pilots made an "incredibly brave" decision to fly into such a dangerous situation.

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One pilot had later spent about 45 minutes at the volcano carrying out a physical search, both aerial and on the ground.

He had been able to see some of those left on the island at the time of the eruption. There were no signs of life.

Sediment streams from the site of the eruption at Whakaari / White Island. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust
Sediment streams from the site of the eruption at Whakaari / White Island. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust