Destinations

White Island update: Seven Australians dead, critically injured return home

The death toll of the White Island volcanic eruption has now risen to eight, including seven Australians, with authorities expecting the worst is still to come.

This morning, Sydney’s Knox Grammar School confirmed two brothers who were being treated in hospital, Matthew and Berend Hollander, died of injuries sustained in the eruption. Their parents, Martin and Barbara remain among those still unaccounted for.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, prime minister Scott Morisson confirmed Australian and New Zealand authorities are working together to transfer 10 injured patients to New South Wales and Victoria.

“Our focus and that of the New Zealand government is on providing the best, most immediate clinical care for those most in need,” the prime minister said.

“The plan also requires significant contributions from State Government agencies, for which we are immensely grateful.”

Morisson also said the government is still not in a position to officially confirm the identity and status of Australians who are still unaccounted for and those who are deceased.

A total of 47, including 24 Australians, were on White Island, or Whakaari, as part of a shore excursion for Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas when a volcanic eruption occurred. Seven of the 24 have been confirmed dead with the remainder either in critical conditions suffering from severe burns or unaccounted for.

A group of friends travelling with three of the Australians who have been confirmed dead, Jason Griffiths, Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer, have released a statement through the department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT).

“On the 4th of December 2019, we embarked upon a cruise as a group of 9 close friends who were looking forward to a wonderful holiday together,” the statement said.

“We enjoyed the first 5 days of our trip and have many memories that will stay with us forever. On the 9th of December 2019, we were devastated by the news that three of our friends were visiting White Island on a shore excursion during the time of the eruption.

“Sometime later, we discovered that two of our friends, Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, were still on the island. We have been advised that there are no signs of life on the island.”

The group said they managed to locate Griffiths in a hospital in the early hours of the morning following the eruption.

“From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members,” the group said.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about why tourists were allowed to be on the island in the first place.

“There will be questions asked, that need to be answered … by the appropriate authorities… it’s an unpredictable live volcano,” Ardern said, according to SBS.

ABC News has revealed tours to the island were touted by one tour operator as an “unforgettable” experience on “one of the most active volcanoes in the world”.

A brochure seen by the broadcaster tells travellers they will approach the island via inflatable zodiac crafts.

“Since the majority of the volcano sits beneath the sea, you head straight to the action without much, if any, climbing at all,” the brochure said.

Breathing apparatus and gas masks are given to tourists so they can see the volcanic activity first hand.

“Get up close to roaring steam vents, bubbling pits of mud, hot volcanic streams and the amazing lake of steaming acid,” the brochure continued.

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