Helicopter pilot recounts transporting 'badly burned' patients 'covered in ash' after fatal White Island eruption

Source: 1News

One of the helicopter pilots involved in rescuing and transporting patients from the fatal White Island eruption yesterday says people were seriously burned and covered in ash when they boarded his aircraft.

Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter pilot James Tayler recounted yesterday's events to 1 NEWS this morning after three choppers, including his own, were part of the response following the 2:11pm eruption.

Tayler said they received a call at approximately 2:40pm and two helicopters were airborne soon after, making a 45 minute flight to get to the Whakatāne air field where an emergency relief centre was established.

"All we really knew was there had been an eruption at White Island and that there were potentially multiple casualties," Tayler told 1 NEWS.

"That was about all the information we had to start off with."

Tayler's helicopter was then called in to assist at 5:30pm, making a stop at Auckland Hospital first to retrieve a "large quantity of blood" that was then taken to Whakatāne to help with the situation.

On arrival, all three crews were then tasked with transportation.

"The three helicopters each transported patients to various hospitals - to the burns unit at Middlemore Hospital and another one to Waikato Hospital.

"And then all three machines returned here with the last one getting back at around midnight.

"It was a big day for everybody."

Tayler said the patients he transported were in critical condition.

"They were pretty poorly - obviously it's difficult to see specific details but they were covered in ash, looking quite badly burned.

"They were in fairly serious condition... the patients had been sedated and prepared for transport so they weren't in any state to say anything."

Five people retrieved from the island have been confirmed dead but there are a further eight still missing on the island.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning authorities are now undertaking a recovery effort, not a rescue mission, after no signs of life were detected by police overnight.