The White Island of New Zealand is a sight pulled out straight from fantasy. It is an 800-acre land that has attracted a lot of Hollywood filmmakers and made tourists fall in love with its sight. But apart from being a sight to behold, white Island is also an active volcano, a sleeping catastrophe waiting to show its ferocity. And just when everyone thought that this volcano will remain asleep, it showed how fatal it could become, beginning a race to save the people who are near it. Everyone on the island shared with their Instagram followers the drama that unfolded there.
Geoff Hopkins was standing on the open deck of a 60-foot catamaran the Phoenix. He put an arm around her daughter as they admired the beauty of the craggy rock that sits on the sea directly in front of them. The two were 30 miles off the New Zealand coast, yet they felt as if they were in a fantasyland as steam and toxic gases are spat out by the volcano into the sky.
Paul Kingi, the catamaran’s skipper turned the engine off and let the anchor sink into the waves so that the boat could rest miles offshore. From where they are, tourists who reserved for a half-day tour would ride an inflatable boat. But before they could start with the tour, a few safety precautions like wearing gas masks and hard hats were done. The moment Hopkins went off the boat and his feet touched the solid ground, he felt a faint rumble from underneath the ground he stood.
The tourists went to their destination, with a young female tour guide leading them across the gentle plain of volcanic rock slowly rising above the ground. They stopped for a while to snap some photos of the place’s strange features– gas vents in the island’s ground, a flowing stream of scalding water, yellow sulfur pillars, as well as lava rocks covered with shiny crystals. The tour guide told them not to wander too far from the trail as one wrong step could cause them to fall into the scorching water. The guide then pointed out a shipping container that serves as a secured shelter in an instance when the volcano erupts. Hopkins asked whether there are any new safety precautions that have been practiced since the last time he visited. The guide answered that she does not know any but there is nothing to worry about because scientists monitor the White Island round the clock.
The tourists arrived at a headland 60 feet above the lake that’s bright green in color. They posed and took photos of the breath-taking views– a sight to behold that shows no sign of danger. Whatever peril that the fantasyland might bring was never obvious. Instagram Island.
At around 1:30 PM, Hopkins saw a second catamaran that ferries the second group of tourists. Hopkins and his daughter Lillani were ferried back to Phoenix where he took a parting photo of the volcano using his iPhone. Enlarging the image, Hopkins saw the second group of tourists gathered along the edge of the lake. The time stamp on the image was 2:07 PM.
Four minutes later, Hopkins heard the screams of his fellow passengers who are gathered on the starboard. He rushed there and saw an enormous black, white, and gray cloud spitting over the crater. And just when everyone thought that things are already worst, the plume turned sideways and straight for the boat. The passengers screamed and looked for a place to hide. That very moment, the 47 individuals who were on the island for the afternoon tour were covered with boiling clouds of gas and scorching debris. Kingi, the catamaran’s skipper aimed the bow back to the volcano knowing that they had to help.
White Island’s eruption may seem to be a shock but it was not a surprise neither. The volcano showed intentions of erupting for thousands of years, yet tourists seem to take these signs lightly. Back in 1796, Captain James Cook sailed by the island and given it the name White Island as he thought that the puffs of volcanic steam were nothing but mere clouds. On the other hand, the indigenous Maori gave the volcano a more appropriate name. They named the place Te Puia O Whakaari which translates to the dramatic volcano. The Maori believed that their ancestors were granted a gift of fire summoned by the spirits beneath the island.
Off the White Island’s shore, on the deck of Phoenix, the very last visitors to leave volcano island watched an up-close disaster that none of them ever thought of. The young tour guide, all bewildered and panicky, ordered the tourists to head back inside the catamaran. Hopkins thought that the training hadn’t prepared the guide for what is happening.
The skipper of the Phoenix turned the catamaran around and headed back to the island. Once the boat reached the foot of the erupting volcano, Kingi did not anchor in fear of another eruption. Instead, he motored slowly as the guides lowered the inflatable dinghy into the waters. Not long after, several young tour-company staffers were approaching towards them as the tourists on the island quickly staggered out of the volcanic clouds.
Meanwhile, Hopkin’s guide opened cupboards over cupboards in search of first aid kits. Hopkins said that he and Lillani could help with the first aid treatment and the guide thrust the medical supplies into their hands as they waited on the aft deck for the injured to arrive.
When the first boatload of injured tourists arrived, the impact of the eruption became clearer. Their injuries were frightful. The first survivors climbed aboard the catamaran without any assistance although their faces, hands, and legs were covered with burns Hopkins had seen for the first time. Skins from their chins and noses were dripping off as if it was a candle wax while some were screaming that they are burning.
In a span of 13 minutes, 23 survivors were taken from the White Island to the Phoenix. Once they no longer see anyone who made it to the shoreline, Kingi maneuvered the catamaran heading to Whakatane. There, a Coast Guard vessel appeared and stopped on the side of the Phoenix. Kingi slowed down the boat and paramedics went onboard to begin treating the rescued survivors.
To those who have seen the ferocity of what seems to be a fantasyland, the deadly eruption would cause trauma. Still, there is no one to blame for what happened because everyone knew from the start the risk that they are going to take with having a trip on an active volcano.
Date: May 26, 2020 / Categories: News, / Author: E O