Video captures Aussie tourists running for their lives from volcano

Heart-stopping never-seen-before video captures Australian tourists’ desperate escape from devastating volcanic eruption that claimed 22 lives

  • New footage shows Whakaari White Island tourists
  • The island’s volcano erupted in 2019, killing 22 
  • Tuesday was the first day of WorkSafe NZ’s criminal trial
  • It’s prosecuting tour operators and owners over the eruption 

New footage of tourists on Whakaari White Island during the 2019 eruption that killed 22 people has been shown during the trial against the island owners and tour operators.

The video was filmed by one of about 18 tourists and guides closest to the active volcano crater in New Zealand’s north just seconds before it erupted on December 9, 2019.

The short clip starts as the group pulled out their phones to take photos of a grey steam and ash cloud that had burst from the volcano.

While the tourists stood in awe, one of the tour guides immediately realised the danger the group was in and began shouting: ‘Come on guys, follows me. Let’s go!’

An American tourist joined in and began telling the group ‘move, move, move’.

Footage shot by a tourist near the volcanic crater on Whakaari White Island when it erupted was shown to court on Tuesday (pictured, tourists taking photos of the eruption before being told to ‘run’)

Panic set in and the group began running from the crater and hiding behind large rocks in the hopes of saving themselves as the cloud spread, exposing them to temperatures as high as 100C.

Of the 47 people on the island, 22 died – including 17 Australians.

Krystal Browitt was the first Australian confirmed dead in the eruption.

Her dad, Paul, later died from his injuries while her sister, Stephanie Browitt, was left with severe burns and shared her difficult recovery online.

The majority of visitors on the island were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship which had berthed in the nearby town Tauranga.

Tuesday marked the first day of WorkSafe New Zealand’s criminal trial against several parties involved in running tours on the island.

This includes island owners, brothers Andrew, James and Peter Buttle. The volcano has been owned by their family since 1936.

The brothers’ company, Whakaari Management Ltd (WML), is also on trial with WorkSafe lawyer Kristy McDonald alleging its operations did not comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA).

The harrowing footage shows the tour group running from the crater while the volcanic ash spreads (above)

The volcano on Whakaari White Island erupted on December 9, 2019, and killed 22 people – including 17 Australians (circled, visitors running from the cloud of volcanic ash)

WML sold companies exclusivity agreements to run tours on the island. 

WorkSafe accused WML of prioritising profit over safety and not properly informing tourists about the risks of visiting the volcano. 

Worse still, it claims the brothers and WML had no effective evacuation plan in place and dismissed an opportunity for Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences to run a risk assessment of the grounds.

‘The limited things WML did in terms of infrastructure fell well short of their duty to ensure there was an adequate mechanism for evacuation,’ Ms McDonald told the court, the NZ Herald reports.

‘Profit should never come before safety.’

Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd and ID Tours New Zealand Ltd were a major part of the tour ‘supply chain’ to the island – including from the Ovation of the Seas cruise.

Ms McDonald alleged the companies did not warn tourists about the dangers of visiting the volcano.

At the time of the eruption the volcano was under a Level Two Volcanic Alert, defined as ‘moderate to heightened unrest’. The highest level is five.

A guide was heard telling one of the visitors on the island about the alert the day of the eruption. 

Tuesday marked the first day of WorkSafe New Zealand’s criminal trial against several parties involved in running tours on the island (pictured, WorkSafe lawyer Kristy McDonald)

Island owners, brothers Andrew (left), James and Peter Buttle (right) are facing criminal charges

‘The higher the level, the higher the risk of an eruption,’ the guide said as the group walked towards the crater.

‘We’re at level two, nearing level three now.’

Ms McDonald said ‘cancellations’ and ‘information for invoicing’ was successfully given to visitors but ‘safety information was not given the same attention’.

‘The case is not that the information received was inadequate,’ she said.

‘Those passengers did not receive any information in terms of volcanic activity.’

Ms McDonald claims several Ovation passengers since said they would not have visited the island is they understood the risks.

The trial is expected to run for 16 weeks. Several parties have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.


  • Island owners: Andrew Buttle, James Buttle and Peter Buttle
  • Whakaari Management Limited
  • ID Tours New Zealand
  • Tauranga Tourism Services
  • Inflite Charters (pleaded guilty)
  • Volcanic Air Safaris Limited (pleaded guilty)
  • Aerius Limited (pleaded guilty)
  • Kahu NZ Limited (pleaded guilty)
  • White Island Tours (pleaded guilty)
  • GNS Science (pleaded guilty)
  • National Emergency Management Agency (charge dismissed)

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