Victims of Whakaari White Island tragedy share moving impact statements in court

Four years ago, Whakaari White Island roared into life, claiming lives and causing horrific injuries.

On Monday, its victims had their say in court. 

Judge Evangelos Thomas said "it's about time, four years is far too long for your voices to be heard".

Six parties are guilty for their role in the tragedy. 

The owners' company Whakaari Management Limited, the tour group White Island Tours, three helicopter companies, and the government geoscience agency GNS which will be sentenced later this week.

"We acknowledge, even if we can't imagine, what you have all been through and what you continue to go through," Judge Evangelos said. 

"We remember and honour those who have passed."

WorkSafe lawyer Kristy McDonald, King's Counsel, said the catastrophic loss of life had a profound effect on the community and the nation, but for those directly involved the pain suffered was immeasurable. 

"They continue to suffer the effects today and will do so for the rest of their lives, the unimaginable emotional pain for loved ones of those killed and injured, and lives changed forever," McDonald said.

Tawhai Maangi, the brother of 24-year-old tour guide Tipene Maangi, said "since losing him it's always there". 

"I'm not as joyful as I used to be."

He described how his brother had been called in to work at the last minute but seemed to have a premonition of the disaster. 

"The morning that he left he told me he might have a feeling that something may happen. He went to work anyway," Tawhai said.

Paula Maangi believed her son was the last person to be taken off the helicopter when his body was recovered days after the tragedy. 

"I know that's my son, I recognised his big puku... oh gosh, it's too much - yes it's too much," she said.

She was unable to continue her statement in court. 

Victim Support's Colleen Ellis finished the statement in which Paula confided she'd drunk to numb the pain and almost thought about ending her life but didn't for the sake of her children, Tipene's siblings.

Tipene's sister Kathleen said "even as a baby, I used to escape my parents' bedroom to sleep beside him". 

"Even as I grew up we both continued to top and tail, he would shove his stinky feet in my face."

Tipene's sister Tamati said, "he was also my best friend. He was like my partner in crime but also a guiding light and a mentor". 

His grandmother Ngaroahiahi recalled her emotions when the eruption happened.

"Hope, shock, angry, anxiety, cheated, blame, stress, guilt, what if, why didn't I?" 

Tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman's body was never recovered.

His father Alan, a former tour guide, said he came to terms with the eruption but struggled to cope with the actions of those who were meant to respond to the tragedy. 

"Every morning when I wake up I can see the white island in the distance and I wonder just where Hayden's body lies," Ellis said on his behalf.

"He never came home thanks to the incompetence of those responsible for his recovery." 

Australian tourist Chris Cozad died on the island. His father John survived. He stood next to Chris's mother Beverley who struggled to complete her statement.

"Since the disaster, my mood has been low and I've been frequently tearful. I constantly feel empty as if there's been something missing," Ellis said on Beverly's behalf. 

American tourist Lauren Urey underwent 75 reconstructive surgeries and laser procedures.

She and her husband Matt went to White Island on their honeymoon but ended up fighting for their lives. 

"I remember wishing that I had died in the eruption because I had gone from being independent to being totally dependent on my family and I thought I would never be the same or worth living," she tearfully said.

Aside from the agony and the inability to even open a bottle, the couple say the aftermath of the eruption has led to fights with their insurance company, stress on their marriage, and a blow to their self-esteem and confidence. 

"I like to keep a low profile and blend in but now I find I could not stand out more if I tried," Matt said.

"I'm also often referred to as the volcano guy which is frustrating, I don't want to be defined by the worst day of my life." 

The court also heard that reparations will be small.

The defendants will only be able to provide $5.3 million between them, thanks mostly to a $5m insurance payout to White Island Tours. 

The owners' company, WML, has no cash.

McDonald said: "The revenue generated by the licensing agreements entered into by WML was not paid to WML but rather was paid to the family trust and is not available for reparation." 

Today was a day of many tears and more victim impact statements will continue tomorrow.