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White Island volcano eruption survivor’s mother reveals joy at having her daughter home for the day

The mother of a survivor of the White Island volcano disaster has revealed her joy at having her daughter home from hospital for the day.

Stephanie Browitt, 23, from Melbourne, was with her father Paul and sister Krystal, 21, off the coast of Whakatane in New Zealand when the volcano erupted on December 9.  

After spending six months in hospital being treated for her third degree burns, Ms Browitt finally had her day leave approved.

Her mother, Marie, said her daughter’s visit ‘brought life back into the home’.

‘Stephanie’s visit was amazing and brought life back into the home, the blinds went up for the first time and I cried when the patient transport had to take her away, back to hospital,’ Mrs Browitt told the Herald Sun. 

‘For a few hours, there was the noise of family in a home again. It’s torture without a baby girl and her father and I can’t wait for the day that Stephanie can return [permanently] home.’

Mrs Browitt said her daughter has a long road to recovery ahead after suffering burns to 70 per cent of her body. 

The 23-year-old also shared a heartwarming message about reuniting with the dog she and her sister shared as she returned home for the day.

‘So after nearly six months in hospital and definitely over six months since I’ve seen my fur baby, I finally got approval for day leave,’ she wrote on Instagram.

‘On my beautiful baby’s 1st birthday!!! And to say I got the best welcome back hug and cuddles from my dog is honestly an understatement!

‘Mum had to try and stop him from jumping on me so I wouldn’t get clawed (she failed miserably and I honestly didn’t care lol). 

‘But today couldn’t have been any better and it felt amazing to be back in my home even if it was just for a day.’ 

The family-of-four were a group of 38 people on board the Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas cruise ship who went to tour the Bay of Plenty region, however Mrs Browitt stayed on the ship. 

It was 2pm when Ms Browitt and her father noticed some ash being spluttered into the sky on their way back to the boat. 

Her father encouraged Krystal to take a photo and that’s when the group heard their tour guide Hayden yell out ‘run’, Ms Browitt told Four Corners. 

Before Ms Browitt could put her gas mask on she was hit by the blinding acidic ash cloud. 

‘I was just knocked over. I was tumbling, rolling, for minutes. I mean it felt like forever until it stopped and then it was just burning hot,’ she said. 

‘I remember trying to stand up and it took so much energy just to stand up. I remember thinking, I can’t believe how hard this is. My legs just felt like jelly.’ 

She was eventually able to make her way towards the water with a group of others who had been hit by the earthshaking blast.

‘Everyone was just on the ground. There was one person lying flat on their belly just spread out, who was screaming in pain, another person who was yelling for help,’ she recalled. 

The group of injured people were waiting over an hour for help to arrive and Ms Browitt would hear her father call out her name every 15 minutes to ensure she was alive.  

Pilot Mark Law from the aviation tour company Kahu Helicopters had seen the eruption from the mainland and decided to fly to the island to offer assistance.

Moments later another chopper piloted by Jason Hill and Tom Storey also arrived at the scene and began ferrying the severely injured off the island.

Ms Browitt’s father told the rescuers to take his daughter first. He stayed behind and eventually died four weeks later in hospital.

To this day, Ms Browitt and her mother still don’t know what happened to Krystal who’s body has not yet been found. 

The families on board the cruise ship said they were not warned of any risks before travelling to the volcano site.

They claim they were just given the tour book which had two lines about their visit to White Island.

Passengers and family members affected by the tragedy are now pursuing legal action over the matter in Australia, claiming cruise operator acted negligently.

‘It was completely preventable. It shouldn’t have happened,’ Stacks Goudkamp lawyer Rita Yousef said.

‘It’s had an amazingly horrific impact. People have lost loved ones. They had to witness them in hospital having been completely burnt, being completely unrecognisable from their horrific burns, and people are having to somehow pick up the pieces.’

Ms Browitt said she’s grateful to be alive despite her horrific injuries.

‘I’ve come to terms with it and I’m fully happy about it knowing that I’m grateful I’m alive… I’m grateful for Mum, that I can be here for her and she can be here for me, that we have each other.’ 

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said guests from Ovation of the Seas were on an organised tour owned and operated by a local company that was independent from Royal Caribbean.

‘Following the eruption, Royal Caribbean have focused on providing care and support to passengers, their families and crew that were impacted by this event. Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families,’ the spokesperson said.

‘The details of the tour are the subject of two separate investigations in New Zealand which we will be fully cooperating with and we are unable to provide further details at this time.’

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