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The dramatic images from moments after White Island volcano eruption

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

In the minutes, hours, days and weeks following the eruption of White Island, photos and videos of the conditions on the island and the impact of the disaster circulated.

In the minutes, hours, days and weeks following the eruption of White Island, photos and videos of the conditions on the island and the impact of the disaster circulated.

Two dramatic images emerged showing a collection of people on the island - some were huddled by the shore, others were climbing onto the jetty. It wasn't clear what was happening in those moments - were they victims of the eruption or rescuers going to help?

Rescue mission

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The eruption on December 9 claimed 21 lives. Many more victims remained in hospital in New Zealand and Australia battling "unusual" infections.

Here's what we know of the photographs and those in them.

Rescue crew in action

This photo was taken aboard the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) during its initial rescue efforts almost immediately after the eruption.

Stuff can confirm the people photographed were not victims or survivors of the eruption, but were part of the rescue operation.

They include two ARHT personnel Dr Tony Smith, who was the on-call Prehospital and Retrieval Medicine Doctor (PHRM) for the day, and intensive care paramedic Stefan Gabor​. There was also an unnamed St John New Zealand personnel on board.

The other crew members weren't able to be identified by ARHT or St John due to the ongoing investigation into the eruption.

The ARHT crews were usually made up of a paramedic, doctor, a pilot and co-pilot, a spokesperson said.

White Island, the most active cone volcano in New Zealand, is pictured shortly after the blast.

Dr Smith, the medical director of St John, also worked as an intensive care specialist at Auckland Hospital. He and the crew received the call for help around 2.40pm (local time), half-an-hour after the eruption.


The Westpac rescue helicopter landed on the beach near the pier after circling the volcano, unable to spot any signs of life. After they set down, Dr Smith, Mr Gabor and the rest of the crew couldn't locate anymore survivors to rescue, so they flew back to Whakatāne to tend to those injured - at that time, six people were critically injured and needed to be airlifted.

Dr Smith previously told Stuff they could smell the sulphur through the respirator masks and the crew's skin became irritated just minutes after being exposed.

Guide's 'superhuman' efforts

This photo was taken by American tourist Michael Schade who left the island just moments before it erupted. He shared this and multiple other shots and videos on Twitter as it happened.

The image shows two White Island Tour guides, a male and female, disembarking the boat in the moments after the eruption, the company wasn't able to confirm the identities of its employees, citing the ongoing investigation as the reason.

The guides were believed to have left the island before the eruption, but travelled back in a dinghy to help ferry victims to safety. Another photo shared by Mr Schade on social media showed the guides returning from the island with a boatload of victims.

According to previous reports, the male guide was Paul Kingi, a skipper for the tour company. He reportedly left the island just minutes before it erupted.

According to a friend of Mr Kingi, he repeatedly went back to the island to rescue those injured. His efforts were described as "superhuman".

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"He went back again and again, ignoring the toxic environment and personal risk, until he was satisfied there were no more obvious survivors remaining," Mr Kingi's friend Rick Pollock said in a Facebook post at the time.

The image was taken 12 to 14 minutes after the eruption at around 2:24pm, according to Mr Schade.

This story originally appeared on and has been republished with permission.

Source: 9News

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