At least five people have been killed and dozens more are injured or still missing after a volcano erupted off the coast of New Zealand while tourists were climbing on it.
Whakaari also known as White Island, located 29 miles (48km) off New Zealand’s North Island, erupted around 2.11pm local time on Monday, blowing huge plumes of smoke and debris 12,000ft (3,657m) into the sky.
A group of tourists were pictured deep inside the crater just moments before the blast, while others on a boat close to the island were forced to run for safety as thick, black smoked billowed towards them.
It is thought around 50 people were on the island at the time of eruption, including New Zealanders and overseas tourists. Australia has confirmed some of its citizens were involved, thought to be passengers from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, which departed from Sydney last week.
Eighteen survivors have been evacuated suffering injuries including severe burns and five people are dead, leaving an estimated 27 still unaccounted for.
Authorities say rescuers have been unable to get on to the island to check for survivors due to dangerous conditions, with experts warning there is a risk of further eruptions.
John Tims, who is helping to coordinate the rescue efforts, said the death toll is expected to rise once a search of the island is carried out.
Whakaari also known as White Island, 48km (29mi) located off New Zealand’s North Island, erupted around 2.11pm local time on Monday blowing huge plumes of smoke and debris 12,000 ft into the sky
At least five people died in the eruption, 18 have been rescued with injuries – including severe burns – while an estimated 27 are still missing, with rescuers unable to get on to the island
Tourist Michael Schade said he and his family were on the volcano just 20 minutes before it erupted and witnessed the blast as they were leaving the island
The White Island Tour operators are seen during the rescue operation about 12 to 14 minutes after the eruption
Rescue services are seen evacuating a group of tourists in a dinghy, as a destroyed helicopter sits in the background
Tourists desperately scramble on to a boat to evacuate the island after the eruption, around 2pm local time
One of the tour helicopters was left behind because of such low visibility after the eruption – which pushed ash and smoke into the air. Schade said the helicopters on the island ‘looked destroyed’
‘I can confirm there are five people now deceased from the eruption on White Island,’ Mr Tims told reporters on Monday evening.
‘A number of other people have been taken to a hospital. A number of people have burns as a result of the eruption. It is still too early for police to confirm how many people are involved.’
Authorities are yet to confirm the nationalities of the victims or assess whether there are still survivors on the island as they have been unable to establish communication with anyone there.
A no-fly zone over the area is now in effect.
‘There are possibilities of further eruptions. The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island. It is important that we consider the health and safety of those that are going to rescue those on the island. So we will be taking that advice,’ Mr Tims said.
According to 9News, 24 Australians are believed to have been on the island at the time.
Sightseeing helicopters and one boat remain unaccounted for as a major rescue operation gets underway.
‘We know that there were a number of tourists on or around the island today, both from New Zealand and overseas,’ New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
‘I know there will be a huge amount of anxiety for those who have loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them police are doing everything they can,’ Ardern said.
Ardern and Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare will travel to the nearby Whakatane on Monday night.
Royal Caribbean, owner of Ovation of the Seas, issued a statement saying the ship would stay in the nearby port of Tauranga overnight ‘until we learn more about the situation’.
White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano and had seen its last major eruption in 2001, with smaller events over the years until now.
Officials said it’s unlikely the volcano will erupt again in the next 24 hours but have warned people to stay away from the area.
White Island, 48km from the Bay of Plenty region, began erupting about 2.11pm local time
A tour group was pictured inside the crater at 2.10pm, just one minute before the eruption took place, amid fears they have not made it off the island alive
Handout images from a webcam belonging to the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences shows the volcano on New Zealand’s White Island spewing steam and ash
An aerial view of the volcano shows thick smoke billowing from the crater
‘It was not a particularly big eruption, it was almost like a throat clearing eruption and that’s why material probably won’t make it to mainland New Zealand,’ Dr Ken Gledhill said.
‘We can’t be certain it won’t erupt again in the next 24 hours,’ he said.
The island is frequently visited by tourists as part of organised boat tours from nearby Whakatane.
Geological hazard trackers GeoNet had registered moderate volcanic unrest on the island for weeks.
But the nature of volcano activity is unpredictable, with the eruption unforeseen by authorities.
A camera of the crater’s rim, run by monitoring agency GeoNet, set to take pictures every 10 minutes showed a string of people visiting the crater at 2.10pm.
The next shot taken, at 2.20pm, was unreadable as the blast had rendered the camera inoperable.
St John has dispatched seven helicopters to the island, but they are unable to land.
‘We are taking expert advice with regard to conditions to determine when we can safely access the island,’ a police statement read.
‘We can confirm there has been one fatality, and based on the information we have it is likely there are others.’
Police did not advise of any further information of the deceased person.
‘Of those transported to shore, at least one has been critically injured,’ a spokesman said.
‘Emergency services are working to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including rescue staff.’
Most people who have been rescued from the island suffered various stages of burns.
‘A disaster waiting to happen’: Experts say tourist trips to White Island volcano were ‘too dangerous’
White Island was always ‘too dangerous’ for the number of tourists visiting the island, experts have said, as they warned of risks of further blasts and landslides.
Emeritus Professor Ray Cas, from Monash University, branded the island – also known by its Maori name Whakaari – ‘a disaster waiting to happen for many years’.
‘I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter,’ he said.
In 1914, a small mining community on the island was wiped out after falling rocks weakened by the island’s volcanic activity swept through the village.
The violent volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s white Island was caused because ocean crust is being subducted (pictured, the series of events leading to the spontaneous eruption). This constant movement means sudden explosions can occur at any moment
Mining activity was subsequently banned and the island has been uninhabited now for more than a century, but is a hotspot for tourists hoping to get close to an active volcano.
Large volcanic events such as the White Island eruption can often cause subsequent disasters.
GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard information centre, describes White Island as New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. Only the top is visible, with around 80 per cent of it underwater.
Rescuers have been unable to visit the island in the wake of the disaster in order to search for survivors and victims, saying it is still too dangerous.
Explaining the dangers, Chris Elders, professor of Geology at Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, told MailOnline: ‘This may be a combination of the ash in the atmosphere that would affect any helicopters.
‘Also, when you get an eruption like this, the ash deposits very quickly and creates rocks which are extremely unstable.
‘Any rainfall, which can be triggered by the ash sent into the atmosphere, could cause a landslide if the unstable rocks come loose.’
Emergency services attend to an injured person arriving at the Whakatane Airfield after the volcanic eruption
A person wrapped in a blanket is comforted by emergency services personnel following an eruption of the White Island volcano
Emergency services attend to an injured person arriving at the Whakatane Airfield after the volcanic eruption
A rescue operation is currently underway to save people who were pictured inside the crater at 2.10pm, just moments before the explosion, on the White Island Crater Rim camera.
Other shots from the camera, displayed online every 10 minutes, showed the blast before the camera went black.
A second, slightly smaller eruption went off at 3.45pm, according to local fishermen.
Tourist Michael Schade said he and his family were on the volcano just 20 minutes before it erupted and witnessed the blast as they were leaving the island.
‘This is so hard to believe. 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,’ he said on Twitter.
‘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.
‘Praying for them and their recovery. Woman my mom tended to was in critical condition but seemed strong by the end. The helicopters on the island looked destroyed.
Allessandro Kauffmann, a Brazilian tourist who was in the first tour group for the morning said his group left the island ‘just in time’.
‘Some people have extensive burns on their bodies. Two tours on the volcano. Ours was the first. The other one right after. We left the island and wasn’t even five minutes before it erupted. This other tour that arrived after couldn’t leave in time,’ he said in an Instagram post.
Coastguard rescue boats are pictured alongside the marina near Whakatane on Monday
Coastguard rescue boats are pictured alongside the marina near Whakatane, where the injured were brought following the volcanic eruption
‘Some people have serious burns. We had to stay to help those people who were on the island. The boat from this other tour was covered in ash from the volcano. Very tense talking about this. We just have to hope that all is as well as can be.’
Tourists from cruise liner Ovation of the Seas were visiting the island on Monday morning, according to the company’s chief executive Mark Cairns.
He said the majority of those injured in the eruption are from the ship.
Judy Turner, the Mayor of Whakatane also confirmed tourists on the island had been injured in the blast.
A spokeswoman for Tourism Bay of Plenty said Volcanic Helicopters and one boat have still not been accounted for.
A White Island Tours boat carrying visitors was also close to the island, which is 48kms from the Bay of Plenty.
Calvin Kingi, who works for the tour company, posted on Facebook saying his group got out just in time.
‘White Island just erupted as we left, we have our work mates and a tour still on the island, I hope they okay,’ he wrote.
An emergency operation centre has reportedly been established at Whakatane Hospital.
A Westpac Rescue helicopter has reportedly been tasked with transporting blood from Auckland hospital to Whakatane.
Family members of people who were on the island at the time are slowly arriving on the wharf and waiting for any updates, according to local media.
Seven rescue helicopters have been trying to get to the island while others situated nearby are on standby.
Thick, black plumes of smoke are still filling the sky around the island.
Warnings ignored: How persistent tourists travelled to the active volcano against expert advice
By Charlie Moore for Daily Mail Australia
Tourists have been travelling to White Island for years despite warnings from scientists that it could erupt at any time.
Between 2011 and 2016 the volcano to the north of New Zealand’s north island – which erupted on Monday – had a period of increased activity but still boatloads of tourists arrived.
Volcanologists at the time refused to step foot on the island because it was too dangerous and warned tourists not to go – but still the boats kept landing.
An aerial view of the volcano, which is currently the most active in New Zealand and erupted in 2016 and 2012 before today
In recent weeks the volcano has been going through another period of activity but tourism was not stopped.
Last month monitoring outfit GNS Science raised the alert level for the volcano to level two because of increase activity.
‘Volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island and some monitored parameters show further increases in activity,’ the agency said.
‘Hazards on the island are now greater than during the past few weeks.
‘The patterns of signals are similar to those through the 2011 – 2016 period and suggest that Whakaari/White Island may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal.’
The Volcanic Alert Level was raised to four at the time of the explosion – the second highest warning level and considered to be a ‘moderate eruption – but is now at three.
Prime Minster Scott Morrison confirms Australians have been caught up in New Zealand volcano horror
A terrible tragedy is unfolding in New Zealand after the volcano eruption on Whakaari/White Island.
Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing.
I have been in touch with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to offer our full support with whatever they need and our authorities are working closely together.
I will be staying in direct contact as events continue to unfold.
We will provide updates once they are confirmed and are available.
There is a ‘possibility of a very large eruption’ under the level four coding, as well as a further chance of a flank eruption, which is when simultaneous explosions occur around the volcano rather than from the summit alone.
Whakaari is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, and is also the nation’s most active, with regular eruptions since 2012.
The most recent eruption prior to today was minor, and occurred in 2016.
At least 70 per cent of the volcano is under sea level, and a single crater makes up most of the island, which is frequently visited by tourists.
Geological hazard trackers GeoNet had registered moderate volcanic unrest on the island for weeks, before the eruption began at 12:10pm AEDT.
GNS Science said they are still monitoring conditions on the island and there had been a ‘steady decline in activity, [though] there remains significant uncertainty.’
‘Currently there are no signs of further eruptions, but we will continue to closely monitor Whakaari/White Island for further signs of activity.’
The local council says New Zealand Police and Bay of Plenty Civil Defence are working together to respond.
Pictured: An abandoned sulphur factory on the island, which is known for its frequent explosions