White Island tragedy: The lives cut short when tourism trip ended in disaster

Twenty foreign tourists and two local tour guides died when Whakaari / White Island erupted beneath them on December 9, 2019.

The death toll would have been higher if not for the immediate heroic actions of tour guide staff and tourists who gave emergency first aid in the frenetic two hours after the explosion, helicopter pilots who took the lead in ferrying injured back to the Bay of Plenty mainland, or the incredible work by nurses, doctors and surgeons over the following weeks.

The dead included teenagers, elderly tourists, a family of four, and two Kiwi tour guides who went to work every day with the mission of showing visitors around what was at the time regarded as one of New Zealand’s most unique tourism destinations.

On the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, the New Zealand Herald remembers those who died when the tourism trip to the island ended in disaster.

Krystal and Paul Browitt

The Browitt family from Melbourne had booked to travel around New Zealand aboard Ovation of the Seas to celebrate Krystal’s 21st.

The family had boarded the ship less than a week after her birthday.

Tragically, Krystal died on the island, with her body being found by NZDF staff during a recovery mission four days after the eruption.

She was a vet nursing student and her former teachers remembered her as a “much-loved member” of her community and a “beautiful soul”.

Her father, Paul, 55, died a month on from the eruption while being treated in Melbourne’s The Alfred Hospital.

Paul was a senior investigator at Victoria’s State Revenue Office.

In a statement after his death, Commissioner of State Revenue Paul Broderick said: “Paul worked as a highly respected and well-liked senior investigator and had been with us as a valuable staff member for 36 years.”

He added that the department’s “thoughts and prayers” were with the Browitt family.

A third member of the Browitt family, 23-year-old Stephanie, suffered extensive life-threatening burns in the tragedy. Krystal and Stephanie’s mother, and Paul’s wife, Marie, remained on a cruise ship on the day of the fateful tour of the island.

Chris Cozad

The 43-year-old Sydney man, his wife, two of their three children, and other family members were on a holiday on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship to celebrate Chris and his wife Bianca’s 20th wedding anniversary.

He was seriously burned in the eruption and was initially cared for in a New Zealand hospital, before being repatriated to Sydney’s Concord Hospital. He died on December 14 and family members remembered him as being a “beautiful” father who doted on his wife and daughters.

His oldest daughter, Emily, said: “He was a really devoted dad and the best husband to my mum.”

Her mother Bianca had asked that everyone be told “how beautiful the people of New Zealand were – including all hospital staff from admin to doctors, taxi drivers, people of the public and staff at the airport. Everyone was so supportive and compassionate.”

Cozad’s father, 72-year John Cozad, suffered burns to 40 per cent of his body and was later airlifted back to Australia for treatment. Other family members did not go on the fateful trip to the island.

Gavin Dallow

Family of the 53-year-old Adelaide-based lawyer have been told he died in a helicopter while being airlifted back to the Bay of Plenty mainland from White Island.

Dallow had visited the island with his 15-year-old step-daughter Zoe Hosking, who also died, and 49-year-old wife Lisa Dallow, who suffered critical injuries in the tragedy.

Along with Lisa, he was well known in the Girl Guide community in South Australia, helping with camps and other events Zoe participated in. He was also a respected member of the Rotarian and tennis communities; including previously being an umpire at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

His twin sister Meredith Dallow remembered him by saying: “If there was anything happening, or if I needed him, I could always ring him and he wouldn’t think twice about coming.”

Dallow was later farewelled at iconic Australian sports ground the Adelaide Oval, with hundreds attending the funeral.

Richard ‘Rick’ Elzer, Karla Mathews and Jason Griffiths

Coffs Harbour residents Richard “Rick” Elzer, 32, Karla Mathews, 32, and Jason Griffiths, 33, were among a group of friends taking a cruise on Ovation of the Seas.

Griffiths was rescued from White Island in the aftermath of the eruption and later died of his injuries.

In a statement after her body had been identified, Mathews’ family said: “Our family is absolutely heartbroken and our big sister will be incredibly missed.

“We have an enormous sense of relief that she has finally been found and we patiently wait with the Elzer family for news of Karla’s partner Rick so we are able to bring them home together.”

Elzer’s family was later notified his body had been identified while they were on board HMNZS Wellington – looking towards White Island – for a remembrance ceremony a week on from the tragedy.

The Elzer’s said: “It has brought our family great relief to know that Rick was with the love of his life, Karla Mathews, at the time of their eruption and that they were together when they passed.

“Together with Karla’s family, we will now be able to bring them home.”

Griffiths was rushed to hospital in a critical condition, but later died in hospital surrounded by friends.

Friends who were travelling with the trio revealed in a statement that Griffiths had been located in a hospital during the early morning of December 10.

“From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members. We are incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends.”

The Hollander family

Barbara, 49, Martin, 48, Berend, 16, and Matthew, 13, all died in the tragedy.

The family had called Sydney home for four years prior to the eruption, having moved to Australia from America.

Berend (also known as Ben) and Matthew both died in hospital.

Neighbours of the family remembered them as “close-knit” and “lovely”.

Barbara’s parents, Larry and Norma Noesen, said in a statement after their deaths were confirmed: “We are together with our family grieving the loss of our loved ones.

“Our amazing daughter Barbara Hollander and our son-in-law Martin Hollander were a wonderful couple of parents to our grandsons.”

Both sons attended Sydney’s Knox Grammar School, with headmaster Scott James saying: “Matthew had a close circle of friends and was popular with his peers. He was always enthusiastic and was actively involved in school and year group activities.

“Ben was actively involved in sports and co-curricular activities at Knox. He had a great love for the outdoors and camp. Ben was a compassionate and enthusiastic student, with an interest in software design.

“Ben’s engaging smile and quirky sense of humour made him a good mate to his close group of friends and welcome member to every classroom.”

Zoe Hosking

The 15-year-old schoolgirl from Adelaide was on a visit to White Island along with her mother Lisa Dallow, and her step-father, Gavin Dallow.

Lisa was the only member of the family to survive, spending several months in hospital as she battled life-threatening burns.

Hosking’s body was one of six located by an NZDF team who later completed the dangerous recovery mission.

Zoe has been remembered by her aunty, Meredith Dallow, as a “popular kid” who, as well as immersing herself in Girl Guides, was chasing her musical dream.

“She had just been accepted into the choir at her school and was taking off with her singing,” she said.

A tribute from Girl Guides South Australia stated the teenager was a “loved and respected” member of its community.

“As a Guide, Zoe built friendships with Guides and Leaders across our organisation. Members of Zoe’s unit at Prospect will remember her as a bright and cheerful friend who was always happy to help others out. Her sense of humour and enthusiasm were well known.”

It also remembered her as a “natural talent – a shining star through her performances and a role model to the young and old. Though she will no longer be present, her spotlight will never dim.”

Hayden Marshall-Inman

Hundreds of tributes from both New Zealand and overseas followed news that the 40-year-old Whakatāne man was one of two local guides to die in the tragedy.

Hayden Marshall-Inman was a much-loved member of his community and one of White Island Tours’ most well-known guides. He died on what was his 1111th trip to White Island.

And among those who paid tribute to him were previous tourists from overseas who Marshall-Inman had safely guided around the volcano.

In the days after the tragedy, it was revealed that the guide helped others on the island in the immediate aftermath of the eruption. He was found unresponsive by helicopter pilots who helped others get off the island, but he was not able to be removed from the volcano on December 9.

His body is one of two that have not been recovered.

His generosity was immense, including his regularly leaving behind a $5 note at a local dairy for the shopper who followed him.

The guide’s brother, Mark Inman, told the Herald earlier this year that in the month after the explosion the family had been told of numerous other ways Hayden had given back to communities. That includes ongoing annual donations of $750 to a youth camp in America he had been a counsellor for between 2004 and 2015.

“It just shows the size of his heart,” Inman said.

“These are the things coming out more and more as we dive into his life. He just kept on giving.”

Anthony, Kristine and Winona Langford

The White Island tragedy claimed the lives of three members of Sydney’s Langford family; Anthony, 51, his 46-year-old wife Kristine, and their 17-year-old daughter Winona.

Son Jesse, now aged, 20, was critically injured in the eruption and watched a livestream of a funeral for his loved ones from his hospital bed at The Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney.

In a eulogy written by Jesse, and read out at the funeral, he said he wanted his parents and sister to be remembered for their loving values, not as being “the family who died on the volcano”.

He said he had lost his “right-hand man” in father Anthony, who “always had his back” and whose values he was now drawing on now.

The Langford family visited White Island while taking a cruise on Ovation of the Seas to celebrate Anthony’s 51st birthday.

In the eulogy, Jesse paid tribute to each member of his family individually, recalling his mum as “a woman who will always stand as an inspirational role model to me with her strong will and core values.

“Everyone who was touched by my mother will know the positive impact she would have on your day-to-day life with her smiles and joy that radiated the room. My mum has been one of my rocks through all my ups and downs that I have encountered in my life and I will miss her more than words can ever describe.”

He wrote of his younger sister: “Losing Winona hurts most of all as she was like a best friend I have had by my side my whole life. It makes it so much harder that I could not properly say goodbye to her due to her still being missing.

“As a protective older sibling, I would have done anything and everything for Winona and it breaks my heart that I can no longer do that.

“Having a sibling that is like a best friend is so rare, which will mean losing her so much harder to deal with as it is one less person I have to talk to.”

He closed with the heartbreaking words: “I love you Mum, Dad, and Winona. I will hold you close to my heart for the rest of my life.”

Winona’s body is one of two that has not been recovered.

Tipene Maangi

Like his work-mate Hayden Inman-Marshall, 24-year-old guide Tipene Maangi died a hero.

After the devastating blast, the pair had been helping others despite Maangi not wearing a gas mask to protect himself from toxic gasses.

Their heroics included helping critically injured Australian tourist Jesse Langford. The then 19-year-old’s mother, father and sister all died when White Island blew underneath them.

In her first full interview since the disaster, the young tour guide’s grandmother Ngaroahiahi Patuwai Maangi revealed she had been told Tipene – who she described lovingly as her “nanny’s boy” – had been helping others when he succumbed to his injuries.

“What I did hear was when they last saw Tipene he was the only one without a mask and he was holding his asthma pump,” she told the Herald a month after the tragedy.

“It was hard [to hear]. He was a bad asthmatic and I don’t even know why he should have been on that job.”

“They had to [help]. Hayden being much older than Tipene, he was always like that … he always put others before himself.”

Maangi had been a strong student during his school days and he had also completed the Spirit of Adventure youth development programme which had highlighted his leadership skills.

Maangi’s body was later recovered during the NZDF retrieval operation.

Julie and Jessica Ricards

The lives of Brisbane mother and daughter Julie, 47, and Jessica, 20, were lost in a bitter twist of fate.

They were initially meant to travel to White Island three years ago, but that trip was cancelled; leading to them later rescheduling for December 9, 2019.

Julie’s sister-in-law Jen Ebron revealed the fact at a candlelight vigil the weekend after the tragedy. She said ahead of their eventual trip they were “jumping out of their skin” with excitement to be able to visit White Island.

“They were laughing and carrying on about racing each other to the top and to see who could throw the biggest stone into the volcano,” Ebron said.

“The only blessing to come out of this was that they were together.”

Julie’s body was one of six later located by the NZDF on its retrieval operation.

In a letter sent to the New Zealand Defence Force, Julie’s sister, Barbara, and brother-in-law, Matthew Whitehead, later wrote of their gratitude towards the brave military staff who were tasked with recovering the bodies.

“We will never know who you are, but we want you to know that we think you are all very brave people and we thank you so much,” the letter stated.

“We know that all of you put your own lives at risk to perform this task and this is not lost on us. When this retrieval was occurring, we hoped that all of you would be safe and it was a relief to us all when it was completed successfully, and you all came home safely.

“We know you all must have seen things that no person should see and for this we are sorry. If we could make those memories of what you saw go away we would.”

Pratap and Mayuari Singh

Pratap, 49, and Mayuari, 42, died during their second visit to New Zealand, a location their family later said they “both loved coming [to] for a holiday destination”.

The Singhs left behind three children; a 12-year-old son and 6-year-old twin daughters.

The Singhs lived in Atlanta, where Pratap was the president of SEWA International Atlanta USA, where he led the Sponsor-A-Child initiative. The project funds the education and healthcare of hundreds of under-privileged children.

In 2015 he put in significant efforts in Nepal after the country was devastated by an earthquake which killed nearly 9000 people, helping on programmes rebuilding schools and shelters for children who had lost families.

The pair were critically injured in the eruption.

Mayuari suffered burns to 72 per cent of her body. She died in Middlemore Hospital on December 22.

Pratap suffered burns to 55 per cent of his body and died in Middlemore Hospital on January 28.

Friends and family were “left shattered and heartbroken” by their deaths.

“Their love is priceless, their presence is irreplaceable,” nephew Bhupender Singh said. “We miss them dearly and their memories are going to stay fresh in our hearts and minds for times to come.”

Horst Westenfelder

The 64-year-old German man died on July 2 as a result of injuries he suffered in the eruption.

Police confirmed the death on November 26, saying he had died “at a hospital overseas” due to “medical complications while receiving treatment”.

A statement from his wife, Angelika, and wider family said: “Our lives have changed. It is unbelievable, how many months my joyful, sensible and strong husband ‘Horsti’ was fighting for his life and I am thankful to everyone who was thinking of us and helping us during that very hard time.

“He lost this battle and started his last journey in July. It is an irreplaceable loss for our family, his friends and of course for myself.

“In loving memory of a full and exciting life. will always miss you.”

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