A survivor of the White Island volcano eruption has opened up about losing her family members - while claiming more lives could've been saved.
Stephanie Browitt, 23, suffered third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers in the eruption off the coast of Whakatāne on December 9. She was one of 38 people on the island, along with her father Paul and 21-year-old sister Krystal, who both died.
The Melbourne family were touring the Bay of Plenty region as passengers on board the Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas cruise liner, but Stephanie's mother Marie remained on board the ship that day.
Stephanie and her father first noticed ash shooting into the sky about 2pm when they were walking back to the boat, but had no idea they were in danger.
Paul even encouraged Krystal to take a photo. "That's when the front tour guide, Hayden, must've heard us or something, I'm not sure, but he yelled 'run!'," Stephanie told Four Corners.
Before Stephanie could put her gas mask on she was hit by the blinding acidic ash cloud.
"It felt like a wave, like it just takes you," Stephanie 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," she said.
Stephanie eventually made her way towards the water with a group of others who were hit by the blast.
"Everyone was just on the ground. There was one person lying flat on their belly just spread out, who was screaming in pain, another person who was yelling for help," she said.
"I remember thinking, I don't know why people are yelling, like, there's just no one near, around us, we're on an island in the middle of the ocean."
So badly burned and exhausted were those in the group, Stephanie said "a lot of people gave up on screaming".
"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," she said.
"I remember thinking, I need to slow down my breathing or I'm not going to make it."
The group waited over an hour for help to arrive and were gripped by the fear of a second eruption.
Pilot Mark Law from the aviation tour company Kahu Helicopters had seen the eruption from the mainland and decided to fly to the island to offer assistance.
Moments later another chopper piloted by Jason Hill and Tom Storey also arrived at the scene and began ferrying the severely injured off the island.
Stephanie's heroic father told Jason and Tom to take his daughter first. He stayed behind and eventually died four weeks later in hospital.
To this day Stephanie and her family have no understanding of what happened to Krystal, whose body would be recovered four days later.
On board the aircraft, Stephanie sat in the front seat while others piled in the back.
"I remember thinking, Why is there no help on the helicopter? I imagined that there would be medics, or like it was a medical helicopter, you know? A rescue crew with all the right equipment and everything. And I remember thinking, Why is there none of that on here?" she said.
"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.
"Sometimes I wonder if my sister might have had a chance if we were found sooner."
Stephanie and her mother said they were not warned of any risks before travelling to the volcano site.
"We didn't sign any waivers, get any receipts, nothing. We were just told a two-sentence description in the tour book on Royal Caribbean about how we would be visiting White Island and be enjoying it and then a scenic boat ride that would have lunch as well on board," Stephanie said.
Passengers and family members affected by the tragedy are now pursuing legal action over the matter in Australia, claiming the cruise operator acted negligently.
"It was completely preventable. It shouldn't have happened," Stacks Goudkamp lawyer Rita Yousef said.
"It's had an amazingly horrific impact. People have lost loved ones. They had to witness them in hospital having been completely burnt, being completely unrecognisable from their horrific burns, and people are having to somehow pick up the pieces."
Despite her horrific injuries, Stephanie she said she's grateful to be alive.
"I've come to terms with it and I'm fully happy about it knowing that I'm grateful I'm alive ... I'm grateful for Mum, that I can be here for her and she can be here for me, that we have each other."
A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said guests from Ovation of the Seas were on an organised tour owned and operated by a local company that was independent from Royal Caribbean.
"Following the eruption, Royal Caribbean have focused on providing care and support to passengers, their families and crew that were impacted by this event. Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families," the spokesperson said.
"The details of the tour are the subject of two separate investigations in New Zealand which we will be fully cooperating with and we are unable to provide further details at this time."