White Island eruption: Survivor Stephanie Browitt recounts tragedy that 'ripped' her family apart

A Whakaari/White Island survivor has recounted the day her family was "ripped apart" when the volcano erupted.

It has been two years since the eruption that claimed 22 lives. Additionally, more than 20 people suffered severe burns, many of whom sustained life-changing injuries, when the active volcano - a popular tourist destination off the coast of the Bay of Plenty - erupted on December 9, 2019. Forty-seven people were on the volcano at the time.

Australian Stephanie Browitt, her younger sister Krystal, 21, and their father Paul had been on the Ovation of the Seas when it stopped at White Island that day. 

"Today marks two years since the incident my family and I were a part of. The day that ripped us apart. For a lot of burn survivors they call it their 'burnversary', a day where they can celebrate their achievements, accomplishments and the fact that they survived such awful tragedies on this very date," Browitt wrote in an Instagram post.

"Unfortunately today's not only the day I survived the unimaginable, it's the day I lost my dad Paul and sister Krystal. It's the day that they were taken from us. My accomplishments mean nothing to me knowing they aren't shared with my sister and dad by my side. Every day I question why we couldn't have gone through this extremely hard journey together, why they couldn't be here also."

Browitt spent six months in hospital after suffering burns to 70 percent of her body. She says when she thinks about the eruption, she's filled "with very mixed emotions".

"I'm extremely grateful that I was able to make it back home to my mum, but I'm also heartbroken that only I made it back. We are a family of four, not two," she says.

"My heart hurts when I remember what I felt that day, but it hurts more not knowing what my dad and sister felt, that I wasn't next to them during their last moments."

While the anniversary of the eruption marks two years of Browitt's accomplishments, it's also a day of "loss, pain, and never-ending grief".

"I miss and yearn for my family every day. I love you so much dad and Krystal, so much it kills me," she says.

"May the others who lost their lives that day find peace and always be remembered. May those that survived continue to achieve their goals in life."

In November last year, WorkSafe charged 13 parties - including 10 tour operators and the island's three owners - with failing in their duty of care to visitors of the island. All 13 pleaded not guilty following a hearing in June.

The charged tourist companies are Whakaari Management Ltd, Volcanic Air Safaris Ltd, White Island Tours Ltd, Kahu New Zealand Ltd, Aerius Ltd, ID Tours Ltd, Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd, and Inflite Charters Ltd. Also facing charges are government agencies Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS) and the National Emergency Management Agency. The owners of the island are James, Peter, and Andrew Buttle, who are also the directors of Whakaari Management Ltd.

When the charges were laid, WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said it concluded the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by the health and safety regulator.