A survivor of a volcanic island explosion which claimed the lives of her dad and sister said her ‘heart hurts for them’ six months on since their deaths.
Stephanie Browitt, 23, from Melbourne, Australia, sustained horrifying burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers in the blast on White Island while holidaying in New Zealand six months ago.
She was with her mum, dad and sister on “a cruise of a lifetime onboard Ovation of the Seas” when the tragedy happened 48km offshore on December 9 at around 2.10pm.
Stephanie’s dad Paul and sister Krystal was visiting the dangerous attraction, while Mum Marie stayed on the ship when the volcano suddenly erupted.
Paul and Stephanie, who were in a coma, were flown separately to specialist burns units in the North and South Islands.
Sadly 21-year-old Krystal died in the explosion and Paul lost his month long fight for life on January 12.
More than 20 tourists from Australia, the US, Germany, China, Britain died and another 26 were seriously injured.
Stephanie opened her heart about her dad and sister’s deaths in an emotional Instagram post.
She wrote: “6 months. In an hour, 12:11pm Aus time/2:11pm in Whakatane, my worst nightmare happened.
“Honestly, every time it’s the 9th of each month I can feel my heart racing and my body tense as the memory of it floods back in my mind.
“I get anxious. I hate it so much, it does not get easier.
“It just hurts more and more when I think about how much time has passed since I was last with my dad and sister.
“I keep wishing I could go back in time and have looked for them in the mess so I could’ve sat with them, been with them.
“My heart hurts and aches for them every day.
“6 months already and it still feels like it happened just yesterday.
“Time feels weird now… We’re just picking up the pieces of our new lives and doing the best that we can do.”
Stephanie also expressed her feelings about her loss days when she returned home after five months of rehabilitation.
She posted a picture of herself on her first day back home on May 23, saying: “I had the most memorable send off from rehab and came home to a huge surprise also.
“Neighbours and friends surrounding my court waiting for me to arrive, it was the most beautiful thing I could’ve come home to after 6 long, hard and exhausting months.
“I can honestly never be thankful enough towards every single person that has been there for mum and myself since the beginning of this horrible journey.
“Through so many tears, pain, sweat, moments of wanting to give up and days where I just wanted to hit something.
“The support of everyone around us has been a part of the reason I chose to keep fighting and just push through.
“Now I’m finally back where I want to be; home, with mum.
“Unfortunately, I wish I had my dad and sister with me also, but I choose to believe they’re watching over me and were with me as I arrived home and embraced mum.”
The death of Stephanie’s dad was announced last month on a GoFund page which was set up in December to help the family.
It reads: “He passed away supported by his loving wife Marie and daughter Stephanie.
“Understandabl[y] the days, weeks and months following his passing have not been easy, with Stephanie still in hospital receiving treatment with ongoing skin graft operations and around the clock care.
“Stephanie looks forward to the coming months where hopefully she would be able to return home and continue her care from home supported by her mother, Marie.”
Local tourism authorities market White Island, or ‘Whakaari’, in Maori language, as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.
Despite an increase in volcanic activity tourists were allowed to visit the privately-owned White Island which runs daily tours and welcomes more than 10,000 people each year.
The volcano attracts volcanologists and thrill-seekers from around the world to walk across the island’s wild landscape, which includes active steam vents and bubbling mud pools.
It is one of the most active in New Zealand and erupted in a steam and gas explosion while visitors were on a day tour from a cruise trip in a nearby port.
Among the injured were Brits Liz McGill, 67, a retired social worker, and her daughter Heather, a product director, who both suffered severe burns
Jessica Johnson, lecturer in Geophysics at the University of East Anglia in the UK, said at the time: “The eruption was unfortunate but not completely unexpected.
“The most that the scientists can do is continue to monitor the volcano and issue information when it is available.