Today, the Herald announces the people of Christchurch as our heroes of the year for their brave and then loving response to the unthinkable - a gun attack which killed 51 men, women and children.

But it could so easily have been any of the countless heroes who have emerged this week in eastern Bay of Plenty, who have shone light in the dark tragedies that bookended year in our tiny nation in a world of 7.7 billion people.

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Bravery, then love - the people of Christchurch are Our Heroes 2019 for their response to the double mosque shootings in March. Photo / Michael Craig
Bravery, then love - the people of Christchurch are Our Heroes 2019 for their response to the double mosque shootings in March. Photo / Michael Craig

It could have been the medics, police, members of the New Zealand Defence Force and scientists who returned to Whakaari/White Island yesterday despite the risk of another eruption.

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Photos released of their efforts show the devastation from Monday's blast as tiny men in yellow retrieve six of the eight bodies.

"There was a huge amount of courage to do what they did today," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last night.

"My job on behalf of New Zealand was to say thank you to them.

Paul Kingi rescued many injured people after the White Island eruption. Photo / File
Paul Kingi rescued many injured people after the White Island eruption. Photo / File

"They were humble, they were true professionals and they carried out their role with dignity and respect for those who have been lost."

The heroes could have been the White Island Tours skipper Paul Kingi, who risked his life to return to those horrifically burned.

It could have been Mark Law, the Kāhu NZ helicopter pilot who led a team of private pilots on a rescue mission after the eruption because he feared emergency services, concerned about safety, wouldn't go.

The pilots, who included Law's colleagues Jason Hill and Tom Storey, and Volcanic Air Safaris' Tim Barrow, Graeme Hopcroft, Sam Jones and Callum Mill, found the dead, dying and alive, and scooped a dozen to safety.

Kāhu NZ pilot Mark Law led a rescue mission by private helicopter pilots to help the injured after White Island erupted. Photo / Supplied
Kāhu NZ pilot Mark Law led a rescue mission by private helicopter pilots to help the injured after White Island erupted. Photo / Supplied

They gasped for breath in the toxic environment and saw dreadful sights, but there were no regrets, Law later told The Guardian.

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"I'd rather break a few rules and save some lives than sit here wondering what we could have done."

It could be any of the people from the Whakatāne community - kitchen staff, admin, cleaners, orderlies, pharmacists, engineers and security - who descended on the hospital after they got the call.

At one point, more than 100 people were working in a hospital emergency department which usually has a staff of eight. Some held oxygen bags, others cut off rings and jewellery which could have affected circulation as the victims' bodies started to swell.

It could be those a step removed. Like the family of Rotorua car crash victim Adrian Hutchings, 20.

Thanks to their decision to donate his organs, his skin will be used to treat those injured in the disaster.

Selfless acts saving lives.

This year has been one of our most grim.

When the gunshots began in Christchurch, one of the first to step up was Husna Ahmed.

The wife and mother who'd spent a lifetime helping others would eventually be shot dead after she returned again and again to Al Noor Mosque to rescue others, including her wheelchair-bound husband, Farid, who survived.

Farid Ahmed holds a photo of his wife Husna, who died saving lives when a gunman opened fire in Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque in March. Photo / Alan Gibson
Farid Ahmed holds a photo of his wife Husna, who died saving lives when a gunman opened fire in Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque in March. Photo / Alan Gibson

Then, across town, there was Abdul Aziz.

When the man charged with murdering 51 and attempting to murder 40, came towards his mosque, Aziz didn't hide.

Instead, he picked up the first thing he could find - a credit card machine - and ran outside Linwood Mosque screaming, "Come here" before hurling the machine at the man.

Abdul Aziz took on the alleged Christchurch gunman with a credit card machine. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Abdul Aziz took on the alleged Christchurch gunman with a credit card machine. Photo / Kurt Bayer

Dodging bullets, Aziz launched a second attack on the man, aiming an abandoned gun like an arrow at the alleged killer's windscreen, shattering it.

"That's why he got scared", Aziz would later say of his life-saving actions.

Minutes later it would be two police officers who put their safety on the line to stop the man.

Senior constables Jim Manning and Scott Carmody rammed the alleged gunman's car off the road before pulling him out as he allegedly yelled: "I've got a bomb."

Police believed the man was on his way to a further attack, commissioner Mike Bush said at the time.

"Lives were saved."

The moment two hero police officers captured the man accused of shooting dead 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March. Photo / Supplied
The moment two hero police officers captured the man accused of shooting dead 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March. Photo / Supplied

The same could be said for Blair Vining, chosen by you as the Herald's Our Heroes 2019 People's Choice winner.

Told in October last year he had terminal bowel cancer and three months to live, his battle began when he was told to wait eight weeks for an "urgent" appointment with an oncologist. He put up a fight and was seen almost immediately.

But the married dad-of-two didn't stop there. As he fought for his own life, he fought for others.

The 38-year-old launched New Zealand's biggest ever cancer petition - at 150,000 signatures - calling on the Government to set up a cancer agency to end "postcode lottery" care which varied wildly across the country.

His final wish came true when Ardern and Health Minister David Clark announced the establishment of a national cancer agency in September.

Blair Vining, pictured with his wife Melissa, campaigned for better cancer treatment for all Kiwis before succumbing to the disease in October. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Blair Vining, pictured with his wife Melissa, campaigned for better cancer treatment for all Kiwis before succumbing to the disease in October. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Vining died the following month, but his wife Melissa later said if her husband was here he'd say: "I'm just an ordinary guy doing what anyone would do."

Ordinary people faced with the toughest of circumstances, and not flinching.

It's what Kiwis do.

There aren't many of us. Sometimes we struggle to be seen and heard.

But tiny can be mighty.