Chopper pilot: 'We found dead and dying people'

A helicopter pilot who rushed to White Island after Monday's deadly eruption has revealed the "horrific" scenes he encountered when he landed to rescue critically injured patients.

Mark Law, of Frontier Air, told The Guardian: "We found people dead, dying and alive but in various states of unconsciousness.

"I descended down into the crater, down to 200 feet. We could see people very easily from the air. They were lying down or spread eagled. We were looking for somewhere we could land that would not be a big problem. The dust is very acidic and that's not good for the engines.

"We both landed in the centre of the island where we felt it was OK. It was ashing but we could deal with it. We went to assess everyone. We were moving around tending to people who were in real distress.

"We wanted to reassure them. We found people dead, dying and alive but in various states of unconsciousness.

"It felt like running through talcum powder.

"It was very hard to breathe and without a gas mask we were gasping for air, but … adrenaline takes over. I'd rather break a few rules and save some lives than sit here wondering what we could have done."

He said he heard emergency services would not be landing, which is why he headed to the scene of the disaster himself.

"We heard they were not coming to the island. It's their decision. I wasn't involved in that. We just took care of our own business."

Law was left shaken by the severity of the patients' injuries.

"The burns were horrific," he said. "A lot of the people could not talk. It was pretty quiet. The only real words were things like, 'help'. They were covered in ash and dust. We were picking them up and skin was coming off in our hands."

He told The Guardian that he would fly back to the island to assist in body retrieval.

"It's a bureaucracy," he said. "I would get the bodies now if I was allowed."

Six people have been confirmed dead and eight are still missing following the White Island volcano eruption.

Families in New Zealand face the agonising wait for their loved ones as authorities say the recovery process may be on hold for safety reasons.

Police say there are "no signs of life" on the island with all rescues completed at the time of Monday's evacuation. There were 47 people on the island in total, including 24 Australians.

Thirty survivors are still in hospital, but 25 of those are in a critical condition and in regional burns units. Three people have been discharged.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that 13 of the Australians who were visiting White Island are hospitalised, while 11 remain unaccounted for.

Police are investigating the deaths on behalf of the Coroner but say it's too early to confirm whether there will be a criminal investigation.


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