Warning: distressing content

One of the heroes of the frantic, desperate rescue efforts following the Whakaari/White Island eruption has described the scene like a bombsite.

"It looked like a bomb had gone off. There was a crippled helicopter that had been knocked off the pad. The propellers had been all bent and broken," Lillani Hopkins told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tourists are cleared from White Island following the volcanic eruption, Photo / Michael Schade
Tourists are cleared from White Island following the volcanic eruption, Photo / Michael Schade

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"All I could think was, if it can do that to metal, what can it do to human skin?"

The geography student had given the trip to Whakaari/White Island to her father Geoff Hopkins for his birthday.

They were on a boat taking one last look at the crater when the volcano blew.

The pair, both trained in first aid, soon found themselves helping survivors following the 2.11pm eruption.

Geoff Hopkins, 50, previously told the Herald some people were drifting in and out of consciousness as he tried to tell them that everything was alright.

Geoff and Lillani Hopkins who gave first aid to the victims of the White Island eruption. Picture / Lillani Hopkins
Geoff and Lillani Hopkins who gave first aid to the victims of the White Island eruption. Picture / Lillani Hopkins

Since then he had been worried that those he helped could be among the dead.

"They were just so massively burnt."

After the Hopkins had visited the island, their boat moved around to get one last look at the crater.

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Damaged helicopter is seen on White Island after the deadly eruption. Photo / Instagram
Damaged helicopter is seen on White Island after the deadly eruption. Photo / Instagram

"As we turned to start heading back, there was just this gasp across the boat and I looked up," he said.

"I could just see this plume of white and grey rising quite high and quite quickly."

The crew launched the inflatable and rushed over to pull people out of the water.

White Island shortly after the eruption on December 9. Photo / White Island Flights
White Island shortly after the eruption on December 9. Photo / White Island Flights

When the first boatload came back from the island, someone yelled: "Is anyone a doctor?"

There were two - one from England and another from Slovenia - while Hopkins, a pastor from Hamilton, and daughter Lillani are trained in first aid.

That was when it sank in how serious the situation was.

The outside decks were used for first aid, while those who'd been on the boat and were unhurt - about 30 - staying indoors.

Boatload after boatload of injured people were ferried back from the island.

"I don't think there was anyone that came off who wasn't badly burnt."

The only ones who were fairly unscathed were those in the group with the helicopter.

"But where they managed to seek shelter, we don't know," Hopkins said.

"Everyone else was horrifically burnt. People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt.

"Their faces were massively burnt.

"But there were also huge burns under people's clothes. So their clothes looked fine, but when you cut them off … I've never seen blisters like that."