Michael Schade had left the volcano with his tour group just 20 minutes before its fatal eruption

By Joelle Goldstein
December 10, 2019 06:25 PM
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A man who was on his way back from White Island just moments before the New Zealand volcano erupted is sharing his scary recollection of the incident.

Michael Schade said he had left the volcano just 20 minutes before its fatal eruption on Monday, which left six people dead, 30 hospitalized, and eight others unaccounted for.

As the boat with his tour group left the island, Schade said he suddenly noticed the terrifying eruption — a moment that the tourist documented in a lengthy thread on his Twitter.

Scenes of chaos were shown in his videos, featuring massive clouds of smoke and ash filling the air as survivors gathered near the water and piled into available boats to escape — one of which was Schade’s.

“My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001,” Schade tweeted. “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland”

Schade explained that his boat took in a number of survivors and his mother helped care for a woman who appeared to be in critical condition, but “seemed strong by the end.”

He also noted that the “helicopters on the island looked destroyed” amid the clouds of dust, smoke, and ash.

“This is so hard to believe,” he went on. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before. My thoughts with the families of those currently unaccounted for, the people recovering now, and especially the rescue workers…”

Besides the distressing videos, Schade also posted a number of photos taken in the aftermath of the eruption.

Some were captured as his boat was in the water, somewhat distanced from the island, while others were closer to the scene of danger and the rescue workers with survivors.

NZ volcano witness
Scenes from Michael Schade’s boat
NZ volcano witness
Scenes from Michael Schade’s boat
| Credit: Michael Schade

“Last photo from me standing on the land was 13:49; this first photo of the eruption was 14:12, about a minute or two into the eruption,” Schade explained alongside the first series of his photos.

“Last photos: here are the White Island Tour operators rescuing people, timestamp 14:24 (~12-14 minutes after eruption),” he wrote beside the two photos of people being rescued from the island.

“Endless gratitude to that crew for stepping up as first responders,” Schade added.

NZ volcano witness
Rescuers at White Island
| Credit: Michael Schade

47 people — comprised of travelers from the United States, Australia, China, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom — were on White Island when the volcano erupted just after 2 p.m. Monday. Of those, 38 were traveling on Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Five people died in the initial blast, while an additional person died Tuesday night at a hospital in Auckland, the Associated Press reported.

Police said in a statement that the victims’ bodies were being transported to Auckland for post-mortems, but that the “severe” nature of their injuries made the identification process difficult.

Ministry of Health spokesman Pete Watson said “it’s possible that not all patients will survive” as every burn unit in the country is at full capacity. Still, he shared, the medical staff was doing all they could to treat the injuries suffered from the volcanic ash and gas.

NZ volcano witness
Rescuers at White Island
| Credit: Michael Schade

Meanwhile, 30 people between the ages of 13 and 72 years old remain hospitalized, with 27 of those people having suffered burns to at least 30 percent of their bodies, CNN reported.

The eight remaining people who are missing are believed to have died. With experts estimating that there is a 50 percent chance of another small eruption within a day, rescue teams are not returning to the island at this time as they “didn’t want to take any chances,” AP reported.

Like Schade, Geoff Hopkins was visiting the island and on a boat when the eruption began, prompting him to help deliver first aid to victims.

He told the Herald his boat pulled multiple survivors on board to treat the victims who were “horrifically burnt” and that he and others poured cold water onto their peeling skin.

Virginia-based newlyweds Matt and Lauren Urey were among those injured, with Lauren suffering from burns on 20 percent of her body while Matt’s burns covered 80 percent.

NZ volcano witness
Scenes from Michael Schade’s boat
| Credit: Michael Schade

Lauren’s mother Barbara Barham told The Washington Post she was angry that her daughter and son-in-law were allowed to travel to the island, considering reports that the volcano had ongoing activity just days earlier.

“There’s been warnings about it. … My son-in-law never would have booked the excursion if he knew there was any chance of them being injured,” she said.

Police are investigating, but said it is too early to tell whether there will be a criminal investigation surrounding safety rules on the island, the Herald reported.