Charges laid over NZ volcano tragedy

WorkSafe New Zealand has filed charges against 13 parties in relation to the White Island eruption that killed 22 people, including 17 Australians, last year.

Ten parties are facing charges under New Zealand's Health and Safety at Work Act, which carry a maximum fine of $NZ1.5 million ($1.43 million).

A further three individuals have been charged and each face a maximum fine of $NZ300,000 ($285,300).

All those charged will face Auckland District Court on December 15.

The charges follow a long investigation that was launched by WorkSafe soon after the December 9 tragedy. WorkSafe is expected to update the media later today, the New Zealand Herald reports.

There were 47 people visiting White Island, or Whakaari, in New Zealand's northeastern Bay of Plenty region when the volcanic island erupted in December last year.

Nineteen tourists and two tour guides from the White Island Tours company were killed, and others suffered devastating injuries. Seventeen Australians were among those who died, according to the ABC.

Survivors have told of how they weren't warned about the heightened risk of volcanic eruption until they were already on the island.

Australian survivor Stephanie Browitt, who was visiting the island on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, spoke of how ash plume shot more than 3km in the air when the eruption started on December 9.

"We started seeing smoke coming out of the crater," she told 60 Minutes earlier this month.

"And the first thing we did was take a photo, not realising that's an eruption and the danger.

"Only a few seconds later, we heard the front tour guide scream, 'Run!' And that's when we realised, crap!

"You could hear the sound of all the rocks hitting the ground and people just screaming because no one knew what to do. Everyone was just petrified. And then when it hit, it was just darkness.

White Island survivor Stephanie Browitt (right), with her mother Marie. Picture: Alex Coppel
White Island survivor Stephanie Browitt (right), with her mother Marie. Picture: Alex Coppel

"I didn't think I would survive. I thought I was going to die."

Ms Browitt, who has had eight fingers amputated and more than 20 surgeries since the incident, said she was only told of the risk of eruption when she was already on the island.

"It really hurts and upsets me and frustrates me that we weren't told," she said.

"It's a major factor in making an informed decision about going on the island and visiting it. And it's just such a huge piece of information to be left out."


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