COMMENT:

Should anyone have been there in the first place?

I can tell you now, if I were a tourist and the tour company considered it safe enough to visit, that would have been good enough for me. I wouldn't have hesitated in joining those on Whakaari/White Island.

I wouldn't have independently sought out the Volcanic Alert Level. If there was a waiver form, I wouldn't have done more than skim read it before signing. If the tour company said yep, we're going, that would have been all the reassurance I needed.

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But is that a good way to run things? Maybe not. Having a clear, standardised, scientifically considered safety threshold would make the decision to visit or not a whole lot easier for tour companies and tourists alike. But predicting volcanic eruptions at Whakaari isn't an exact science.

Forecasting is far from precise. There are plenty of occasions when the island would have registered at the same level on the Volcanic Alert Level as it did before the eruption, only for nothing to happen.

Rescuers risked their lives to collect bodies, when there was talk of a significant risk of another explosion. Photo / Supplied
Rescuers risked their lives to collect bodies, when there was talk of a significant risk of another explosion. Photo / Supplied

I note there are reports the three helicopter tour companies operating on Whakaari/White Island weren't registered as adventure operators with WorkSafe. That could be a big issue in weeks and months to come.

There is a second big question many have asked in the wake of Monday's event: why weren't rescue and recovery teams out on White Island sooner?

I thought the police did a poor job in the early hours of this disaster of explaining exactly what rescue operations had already taken place. Late on Monday night, most of us were under the impression there were potentially injured survivors shivering in the dark and waiting to be collected. Why the hell aren't they rushing out there? We wondered.

'Jeez, whatever happened to heroism?' someone said to me.

But of course rescue helicopters had been out to the island. Boats and choppers rushed off those who were living ... including those most critically injured. They weren't absolutely sure, but with the time they had it looked very unlikely any survivors remained on the island. Police didn't communicate this early enough.

But since Monday, many people have criticised the time it took for emergency services to return to the island and retrieve the bodies. I can only imagine the distress which the families of those killed are experiencing. Some of them were clearly desperate to have their loved ones returned. Often there are cultural reasons to have a body returned as quickly as possible, too.

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

But I'm sorry ... to criticise the authorities for not rushing back is madness. It's irresponsible. It's unreasonable. The criticism is totally misplaced.

It is one thing for rescuers to risk their lives to save living people, but to risk their lives to collect bodies, when the relevant experts say there is a significant risk of another explosion, would be reckless beyond belief. It's painful, I know.

But everyone tut-tutting at health and safety procedures should keep in mind that in months to come, a lack of red tape may prove to be the cause of this disaster in the first place.

They're not collecting bodies from a car wreck. This is an active offshore volcano spewing poisonous gas that has just erupted and covered itself in a fresh coat of ash and debris.

What would happen if it erupted again when the recovery crew were out there? Hard as it is to accept, there is an enormous difference between risking lives to save lives ... and risking lives to collect bodies.

I hope they can get out there and find these final bodies. I really do. But just as with the earthquakes, and with extreme weather ... Monday is a little reminder for all of us. As Kiwis, we've cut a deal with mother nature: The physical elements that make our country so beautiful, occasionally put us at risk.