White Island eruption: Survivor reveals 'surprising' moment that caused flashbacks of the tragedy

Stephanie Browitt has given some insight into the impact the tragedy continues to have more than a year on.
Stephanie Browitt has given some insight into the impact the tragedy continues to have more than a year on. Photo credit: Stephanie Browitt / Instagram; RNZ

A survivor of the White Island eruption was "shaking in fear" after a tradition commemorating Australia Day sparked flashbacks of the tragedy, Stephanie Browitt revealed in a candid post on social media. 

The 24-year-old suffered burns to 70 percent of her body when Whakaari/White Island erupted on December 9, 2019, killing 22 people - including her father and sister. 

She was hospitalised for six months before she was able to return to her home in Melbourne, and still wears compression garments on her face and body to help with healing.

Browitt, who frequently uses her social media to provide updates on her recovery, revealed earlier this week that despite her upbeat and positive demeanour, specific events can trigger flashbacks of the trauma.

"Last Tuesday was a horrid day for both mum and myself. Unfortunately, we weren't warned of or knew of the [21-gun] salute to commemorate Australia Day," she wrote.

"As you can imagine the loud noises and the strong smoke set off my PTSD and I was left crying as past memories flooded my mind. I was stuck shaking in fear as I held on to mum for protection. 

"It took a while for me to ground myself back in reality and realise that I was completely safe. I realised then that although I 'thought' I didn't really have the symptoms of PTSD, the most surprising things can set you off and out of the blue.

"It's a huge reminder that even though I believe I'm OK, I still have a lot of emotional and mental trauma to work through and process and that’s okay."

Browitt concluded her post by encouraging others who are suffering to seek help.

"You're worth it and you deserve to feel okay. I'm much better now of course and at least I'm now prepared for [the] next Australia Day. 

"I hope everyone is having a beautiful week."

Following a significant probe, 13 parties were charged in relation to the deaths of the 22 people who died in the eruption.