A woman who survived the 2019 White Island volcano eruption — and lost her dad and younger sister to the tragedy — has revealed the one question she’s still asked.
A woman who survived the 2019 White Island volcano eruption — and lost her dad and younger sister to the tragedy — has revealed one common question she’s still asked, two years on.
Melbourne’s Stephanie Browitt, her 21-year-old sister Krystal, and their father Paul had been on the Ovation of the Seas when it stopped at the privately-owned island, in New Zealand’s northeastern Bay of Plenty region, on December 9.
They were among 47 people there, touring the island, when the volcano erupted — killing 22 people, including 14 Australians, and badly injuring the other 25.
Ms Browitt, who spent six months in hospital after suffering burns to 70 per cent of her body, has been open about her journey to recovery on social media.
And in a new TikTok posted last week, she reflected one of the things people ask her the most — why she, her family and the other victims “couldn’t jump in the water if it’s an island” when the volcano eruption.
“Well as you can see, that’s us, circled, on the island that day, at 2.10pm. And the walls are extremely high up, and we are only surrounded by rock. We’re nowhere near the jetty, and nowhere near the ocean. We are as inland as you can get and under 140 metres from the crater,” she explained, alongside an image of where the family had been standing before the eruption.
“So my family and I were at the back of that line, and it was only about a two minute walk, we had only just started walking back to the jetty. This is the same camera only 40 seconds to a minute apart, and as you can see the island was already engulfed in ash and dust.
“So we were never, ever, ever going to make it to water. There was literally no chance for the group of 21 people I was with.”
Ms Browitt marked the second anniversary of the disaster late last year, writing it had “ripped” her family apart.
“Today’s not only the day I survived the unimaginable, it’s the day I lost my dad, Paul and sister, Krystal. It’s the day that they were taken from us,” she wrote in a lengthy Instagram post.
“My accomplishments mean nothing to me knowing they aren’t shared with my sister and dad by my side. Everyday I question why we couldn’t have gone through this extremely hard journey together, why they couldn’t be here also.
“So when I think about today, it’s filled with very mixed emotions. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to make it back home to my mum, but I’m also heartbroken that only I made it back. We are a family of four, not two. My heart hurts when I remember what I felt that day, but it hurts more not knowing what my dad and sister felt, that I wasn’t next to them during their last moments.”
New Zealand’s workplace safety watchdog WorkSafe charged 13 parties — including tour operators and the island’s owners — with failings in November 2020. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.