COMMENT:

Minister of Police Stuart Nash got one thing right when he was reflecting on the awful events on White Island. Nash described the first responders as the real heroes, the helicopter pilots who put their own safety at risk by flying into the inferno to save the mainly tourists who were on the ground to see a volcano close up.

His boss, Jacinda Ardern, also got it right when she observed after visiting the area that those pilots and their crews undoubtedly saved lives.

The Prime Minister also paid tribute to the St John medics who changed boats at sea, to get on board one private craft heading to shore, to tend to and try to relieve the pain of those who had been horrifically burned.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
At least one of the dead is a local man - a popular tourist guide
The alert level on the island volcano was raised several weeks ago
Scientists say the volcano erupted instantaneously
White Island tour operators could potentially face manslaughter charges: legal expert

The other pilot, who told a riveting story to Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive, was John Funnell, who happened to be flying in the area. He stayed in the air, relaying back to the authorities what he was seeing, including where people were, which no doubt saved lives.

White Island shortly after the eruption. Photo / White Island Flights
White Island shortly after the eruption. Photo / White Island Flights

Ardern says there's no limit to New Zealand's capacity to mobilise, to respond, to care and embrace those affected by tragedy. She said we are a nation full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

And that was most certainly the case for those who had unselfishly put themselves in harm's way to save lives on White Island this week.

Sitting off to the side, obviously playing a significant role in the operation, were the police. People have been quick to criticise them for not setting foot on the island themselves when others were prepared to take the risk.

It's been likened to their response to the Pike River mine explosion 10 years ago, where safety was put before risking the lives of those itching to go in. They had control there, on White Island they didn't.

Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In fairness to police officers, they're forced to operate within the law and our health and safety laws. And thanks to the mine explosion, they are totally risk averse.

The police Eagle helicopter flew over the island late on the day of the eruption and the next morning. Its crew had been told by those who'd been on the ground there was no sign of life and those flights confirmed it.

Advertisement

So their grisly job is now body recovery. They may not have been able to rush in like others did on instinct, that's not their job.

Thank God for those who did operate on instinct but the police can't be attacked for doing the job they're expected to do.