A survivor of the Whakaari/White Island eruption, who lost her sister and father, says more people would have survived if help came sooner.

Australian woman Stephanie Browitt, 23, suffered burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers as a result of the December 9 eruption.

The volcano has been in a state of unrest since it erupted last year, killing 21 people and injuring 26, with scientists saying it could blow again with little warning.

The volcano erupted on the afternoon of December 9, 2019. Photo / Allessandro Kauffman
The volcano erupted on the afternoon of December 9, 2019. Photo / Allessandro Kauffman

Browitt's younger sister Krystal, 21, and father Paul were among those who died as a result of the eruption.

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The 23-year-old was one of 12 people rescued by a group of local helicopter tour pilots who flew to the island after it had blown-up.

"I'm upset at the whole situation, but I'm very angry that it took so long for the rescue to come," Browitt told Four Corners.

Stephanie Browitt's father Paul and sister Krystal died as a result of the eruption. Photo / Facebook
Stephanie Browitt's father Paul and sister Krystal died as a result of the eruption. Photo / Facebook

"Now I realise rescue actually wasn't coming. It was just three pilots who chose to risk their own lives to help us and if they hadn't come, we'd all be gone.

"I know that if help had come sooner, there would probably be more people alive from our group."

Following the eruption, authorities did not send official rescue helicopter to the volcano immediately, instead, they were sent to Whakatāne, around 50km away.

The family only learnt about the risk of eruption once they were on the island, Browitt said.

The Browitts were part of a group of 38 people from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship who were on a day trip to Whakaari/White Island.

Browitt's mother Marie decided to stay on the ship docked in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty.

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White Island Tours guides only told the group the volcano was at alert level two, the highest it could be before an eruption occurs, once they were on the island, Browitt said.

"Once you're on the island, you can't get back off," she said.

"I was a little concerned ... but at the same time you sort of have trust that we wouldn't be on here, they wouldn't be running tours if they thought it was dangerous."

The Browitts reached the centre of the island at about 2pm, taking a picture together at the edge of the steaming crater lake at 2.04pm.

Krystal Browitt, from Melbourne, died as a result of the eruption. Photo / Facebook
Krystal Browitt, from Melbourne, died as a result of the eruption. Photo / Facebook

Six minutes afterwards as they were headed to the jetty when Whakaari/White island erupted.

Browitt's younger sister Krystal managed to capture the moment it began on camera, with a gas cloud beginning to emerge from near the crater lake.

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Their tour guide instructed the group to start running and before Browitt was able to put her gas mask on her face she was hit by a wave of ash and rock.

"It felt like a wave, like it just takes you," she said.

"I was just knocked over. I was tumbling, rolling, for minutes. I mean it felt like forever until it stopped and then it was just burning hot.

"I remember trying to stand up and it took so much energy just to stand up I remember thinking, 'I can't believe how hard this is'. My legs just felt like jelly."

A Volcanic Air helicopter was badly damaged and left on the island. Photo / Instagram
A Volcanic Air helicopter was badly damaged and left on the island. Photo / Instagram

After getting to her feet and walking for a short time, Browitt fell and tumbled down a small hill and landed among a group of people.

Help only arrived nearly an hour after the volcano erupted.

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No one was able to move, Browitt said, as they waited for help with the sun making her burns more painful.

She heard her father call out her name and called back to him before everything went quiet, Browitt said.

"I think a lot of people gave up on screaming," she said.

"But every 15 to 20 minutes, I'd hear my name again. My dad was yelling out my name and I realised he was checking up on me to make sure I was awake."

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

Browitt was rescued by helicopter pilot Jason Hill but not before the pilots tried to load Paul in first, who told them to take his daughter first.

After landing at Whakatāne, a 20-minute flight from the volcano, Browitt was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

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Browitt and her father and Paul were flown to Melbourne and Paul died in hospital four weeks after the eruption.

The Browitt family do not know what happened to Krystal and whether she was brought back on one of the helicopters on December 9 or if her body was one of six left on the island and recovered four days later.

The family did not sign any waivers or get any receipts from the cruise ship operator, Royal Caribbean, about the volcano tour.

And they were not told about the risks either, Browitt said.

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

"If we were informed of the level and that there was a lot of [volcanic] activity in the coming weeks leading up to it ... we wouldn't have done it," she said.

A group of passengers and victims' relatives are now taking legal action against the cruise ship operator.

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In a statement, Royal Caribbean told Four Corners they were focused on providing care and support to passengers.

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However, as details of the tour were subject to investigations, they were unable to provide further information at this time.

Back in Australia, Browitt had started running and jogging after extensive rehab - she could also move her hands and write.

"I've come to terms with it and I'm fully happy about it, knowing that I'm grateful I'm alive," she said.

"I'm grateful for Mum, that I can be here for her and she can be here for me, that we have each other."

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The Browitt family were visiting the island while on a day trip during their Ovation of the Seas cruise. Photo / George Novak
The Browitt family were visiting the island while on a day trip during their Ovation of the Seas cruise. Photo / George Novak

Yet to speak with New Zealand police about the eruption, Browitt was hoping to "talk about it" and let everything out.

She was unable to move on properly until she found out what happened to her sister also, Browitt said.

New Zealand police told Four Corners they were working with Australian police to arrange interviews with grieving family members.

Some aspects of their investigation had been delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, including some international interviews, police said.