In December 2019, a group of 47 tourists and their guides were exploring a small island in New Zealand called White Island which is actually the top part of an underwater volcano, which is very active in New Zealand. At the very instant, the volcano erupted in a powerful and terrifying way, sending huge amounts of smoke into the air. Many videos of this event were shared on social media.
Sadly, 22 of the people on the island lost their lives in the eruption, but luckily, others were able to escape without serious harm. Recently, a helicopter pilot testified in court that he and two of his passengers managed to jump into the ocean right after the volcano erupted, and they were mostly unharmed. However, two other passengers suffered severe burns because they couldn’t get into the water in time.
“The water is what saved us,” the pilot, Brian Depauw told the court.
The trial that is currently taking place is focused on the tour operators who are being accused of not ensuring the safety of their customers.
“I heard my customer saying should we run now?” Depauw said in a statement that was recorded just three days following the eruption. “I looked behind me and saw the plume going up 1,000 or 2,000 feet high, I saw boulders and debris arcing toward us, so I said: ‘Run, run, run to the water. Follow me.”
“The minute I hit the water, it went black,” he added. “The ash came and obviously hit us and I couldn’t see anything.”
Dewaul recalls trying to stay underwater while holding his breath until he “saw some light through the ash.”
Videos shown in court are truly horrifying, as they depict tourists running for their lives. Since December 2020, New Zealand’s main health and safety regulator, WorkSafe NZ, has been investigating the incident and accusing 13 different parties of putting people in danger.
“This was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care,” WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said at the time, as quoted by the BBC.
The trial is expected to go on for several months, and some tour operators have already admitted their guilt and will be fined accordingly.