TikTok star who survived White Island volcano reacts to guilty verdict

She suffered third degree burns to 70% of her body in the disaster which killed 22.

TikTok star who survived White Island volcano reacts to guilty verdict
Stephanie Browitt survived the White Island volcano eruption but suffered third degree burns to 70% of her body (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)
Stephanie Browitt survived the White Island volcano eruption but suffered third degree burns to 70% of her body (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)

A survivor of the catastrophic White Island volcano eruption has spoken out for the first time since the land owners were found guilty of breaching health and safety laws.

Stephanie Browitt was one of 47 tourists exploring the 1,000-ft active volcano, which lies 30 miles east of New Zealand’s North Island, when a gigantic ash cloud started spewing.

Terrifying footage captured the moment tourists were forced to run for their lives when the thick plume swirled into the air on the island, also known as Whakaari, on December 9, 2019.

Aged 23 at the time, Stephanie suffered horrific third degree burns to 70% of her body and lost parts of her fingers in the natural disaster.

A further 22 people were tragically killed in the shocking incident, including her younger sister Krystal, 21, and her father Paul, who later succumbed to his injuries after four weeks in ICU.

The remaining 25 survivors all suffered serious injuries, ranging in severity, and more than a dozen tour operators were put on trial over a period of three months this year.

Whakaari Management Ltd, the holding company for the island’s owners, was the final defendant in the case and was found guilty of one charge on Tuesday.

Stephanie has shared her recovery journey after she suffered horrific injuries in the disaster (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)
Stephanie has shared her recovery journey after she suffered horrific injuries in the disaster (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)

Judge Evangelos Thomas said no risk assessment had been carried out despite the company being aware of an eruption that took place three years earlier in which nobody was hurt as it happened at night.

The judge said Whakaari Management should have sought expert guidance and either stopped the tours or put controls in place – but it did not.

Following the guilty verdict, Stephanie, who has been sharing her road to recovery on social media and risen to TikTok stardom, shared a statement.

‘Hospitalised Stephanie would be proud of where she is today’

She said her past self would be 'proud' of how far she has come (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)
She said her past self would be ‘proud’ of how far she has come (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)

Posting a short clip which included pictures of her progress over the last four years, she simply said: ‘Hospitalised Stephanie would be proud of where she is today, especially considering that she lost faith in everything.’

Just two days ago, Stephanie also wrote on Instagram: ‘Although my journey is still extremely emotional, raw & difficult to relive, I do so in hope that it can help others who are on their own recovery journey in life.’

Lauren Urey, 35, and her husband Matt, both from Richmond in the US state of Virginia, survived the explosion after they hid behind rocks.

She was among those who testified at the trial and  told the judge: ‘I remember me screaming in agony. My body was sizzling.

‘I said, “I love you so much. I’m going to die today.”‘

Stephanie was badly burnt when the White Island volcano erupted while she was visiting it in December 2019 (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)
Stephanie was badly burnt when the White Island volcano erupted while she was visiting it in December 2019 (Picture: TikTok / stephaniecoral96)

Of the 20 tourists and two guides killed, 14 were Australians, five were Americans, two were New Zealanders and one was a German.

Stephanie and her family were a part of a group of 38 people on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas cruise ship day trip to the island – her mother Marie had stayed on the ship docked in the Bay of Plenty.

Back in 2020, she said they were only told about the high level of risk that the volcano could erupt when they arrived on the remote island. 

Once there, guides told them the volcano alert level was at two – the highest it can be before an eruption actually happens.

An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, in New Zealand three days after it had erupted on December 9, 2019 (Picture: Reuters)
An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, in New Zealand three days after it had erupted on December 9, 2019 (Picture: Reuters)

A group of local helicopter tour pilots all risked their lives to save those stranded on the island but it took some time for anyone to come to their aid.

‘I’m upset at the whole situation, but I’m very angry that it took so long for the rescue to come,’ Stephanie told ABC.

‘”Now I realise rescue actually wasn’t coming. It was just three pilots who chose to risk their own lives to help us and if they hadn’t come, we’d all be gone.’

‘I know that if help had come sooner, there would probably be more people alive from our group.’

The organisations that pleaded guilty will be sentenced in February, with each facing a maximum fine of £720,750 – equal to NZ$1.5million.

They included three companies that operated helicopter tours, one that operated boat tours, a scenic flight operator, and New Zealand scientific agency GNS Science.

Last year, a young Australian man who lost his entire family in the tragedy bravely spoke out for the first time.

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