White Island eruption: The 'distressing' aftermath described by first responder

The AM Show 11/12/2019

One of the selfless Kiwis who rushed to help dozens of White Island eruption victims has spoken of what he saw amid the horrific aftermath of the disaster.

First responder and Kahu NZ helicopter pilot Mark Law said the scale of the tragedy was immediately visible.

Forty-seven people visited the island on Monday. Of those, six are confirmed dead and 30 are in hospital. Eight are missing and presumed dead.

Law was one of the first on the scene after the eruption, putting his life on the line.

"I was just driving back from Tauranga and noticed a big plume that looked a little bit sinister," he said. "I contacted one of the pilots at the base.

"We checked the cameras and they were blacked out," Law told The AM Show on Wednesday.

He then called a friend on a fishing charter, who confirmed the significance of what had just happened. White Island had erupted. 

That's when he decided to get two helicopters in the air.

"[We] flew towards the volcano," Law told The AM Show. "We went down and had a look and noticed a lot of very distressed people - so we continued to the volcano.

"I flew inside the crater and very quickly noticed a lot of people sprinkled throughout the crater floor."

Photo credit: Newshub.

After landing, he ran to assist those in need.

"The other crew landed and they joined me, and we went about everyone to see what status they were," Law said.

"Very tragically there was a number of people dead at that stage; a number of people were alive but not coherent and in various states of consciousness.

"The injuries were very horrific - the obvious being the burns."

When they got word no further rescue services would be coming to the island, Law decided to start loading people into the choppers. Tragically, some of those died on the way to the hospital.

"At that stage, we were stood down. We wanted to go back out and continue - but the emergency services of New Zealand had taken over.

Photo credit: Newshub.

"That was our job done at that time."

It's one of many stories of heroic actions that assisted those in need in the aftermath of the eruption. Chief pilot Roger Hortop led Westpac Rescue Helicopter's response and dropped paramedics to search for survivors, but they were too late.

"The medical teams, it was half an hour before they relayed back to us that there were no survivors that they could see," he said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern thanked everyone who put themselves in danger to help the dozens of injured people.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Ardern praised Law and Hortop's responses.

For the latest on the disaster tune into Magic Talk or follow live updates here.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor