White Island eruption prompts rescue effort

white island
White Island is the most active volcano in New Zealand, situated in the Bay of Plenty.

A volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island has killed sixteen people, with 28 others injured, some severely

UPDATE: 12/12/19 - 28 people are now being treated in hospital - 21 in New Zealand and seven in Australia - some with burns on up to 80 per cent of their bodies. Three have been treated and discharged.

Around 50 people were on the island at the time of the eruption, more than 20 of them being Australian tourists. In all, twenty-three people were rescued, all of whom had sustained injuries, mostly burns, and seven people have been flown to hospitals in Auckland and Tauranga in critical conditions. The Westpac Rescue helicopter has been tasked with flying in blood supplies to hospitals in Auckland.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust tasked three helicopters to White Island and Whakatāne between 2.40pm and 5.33pm, following the eruption at 2.11pm, transferring three intensive care paramedics, two doctors and blood supplies to the scene. It also took two female patients in a critical condition to Middlemore Hospital.

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter was also called to assist, after initially providing cover to the Manawatū area on Monday, according to pilot Barry McAuliffe.

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ahern said: "I want to acknowledge the courageous decision made by first responders, and those pilots who, in [an] immediate rescue effort, made [an] incredibly brave decision, under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances, in an attempt to get people out."

St John Ambulance issued a statement about their part in the rescue effort: “Our ambulance crews have worked with New Zealand Police, Royal New Zealand Coastguard, Ambulance Air Operators, District Health Boards and Royal New Zealand Airforce, in a coordinated response to the White Island eruption. One helicopter with paramedics and St John Medical Director Dr Tony Smith on board spent a short time on the island assessing the scene. Staging points were set up at Whakatane Airport and Whakatane Coastguard base to assess and triage patients. In total St John responded 11 helicopters and 12 ambulances to treat and transport patients to various hospitals including Whakatane, Tauranga, Middlemore and Auckland City, by air and road. St John has treated patients with injuries ranging from critical and serious through to moderate and minor. It has been an exceptionally complex scene and our paramedics, both frontline and working in our Clinical Communications Centre, have done an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances.”

“The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption,” police said in a statement at 12.12 hrs local time. “No signs of life have been seen at any point. Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”