First responders to White Island eruption witness victims' blistering, bad burns

The number of people killed in the Whakaari / White Island eruption could have been higher, if not for the heroic actions of people there at the time of the explosion.

Many selfless Kiwis rushed to help dozens of people who were severely burned.

Geoff Hopkins, 50, and his daughter Lillani were finishing a tour and were about to leave the island when the volcano blew. But instead of fleeing, they went towards the eruption and into danger to help.

"We started to help people aboard and assessing them and just first aid. Everybody that was coming on was burned, badly burned," he said.

They were some of the first responders on the island and said they had never seen anything like it.

"[There was] huge blistering, and skin that's coming off from arms, legs, faces.

"People are starting to go into shock. So you've gone from cooling people from burns to now trying to keep them warm."

Geoff and others on his tour boat triaged the victims before rushing them back to shore.

Even those trained to deal with emergencies described the injuries as shocking, and volunteer firefighter Chris Hands said the situation "wasn't nice".

"It makes you realise what guys in Vietnam went through after seeing it in the movies like that," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern thanked everyone who put themselves in danger to help the dozens of injured people.

"All [those] down on the ground making themselves available to assist, they have done an incredible job under devastating circumstances."

Chief pilot Roger Hortop led Westpac Rescue Helicopter's response and dropped paramedics to search for survivors, but they were too late.

"The medical teams, it was half an hour before they relayed back to us that there were no survivors that they could see."

In Parliament on Tuesday, Ardern praised Hortop's response, alongside another man, Mark Law.

"Those helicopter pilots who were landing on White Island, as you can imagine, were greeted with devastating scenes, but did all they could to take off every survivor from that island and bring them immediately back to the mainland.

"I have no doubt that they saved lives at great risk to their own personal safety."