An anonymous stranger has been hailed by the mother of a victim of the devastating White Island volcano eruption during a memorial for the one year anniversary.
Avey Woods, the mum of experienced tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman who was killed during the violent eruption in New Zealand on December 9 last year, reached out to the stranger who comforted her as she broke down over the news of her son’s death on a beach the day after his death.
“What do you say when you lose a son and you break down on the beach calling out his name, sobbing, and a stranger comes up behind you, puts their arms around you whilst you cry, you wail, you sob, call out his name?” Mrs Woods said at a commemoration service on the anniversary in Auckland.
“That was the day after he died.”
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His body has never been recovered.
“To this day I do not know who that lady was on the beach and I hope she’s listening because that shows what a community we are and how powerful that felt that day.”
Hayden was the first victim to be named after the eruption, described as a young and energetic man with the “kindest heart”.
Mr Marshall-Inman had been taking tour groups onto the island for years, even commenting about how the unpredictable and very active volcano made him “nervous”.
In a YouTube video from July 2018, shot by travel guide company NZ Pocket Guide, Mr Marshall-Inman spoke about a harrowing experience he’d had months earlier.
“Last September was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said as he ferried the tourists towards the island on a small rubber boat.
“There was an ash eruption when we got here.
“We were walking into it and I could definitely feel the nerves punching inside me for sure.”
His brother, Mark, sailed towards the volcano on the anniversary “to reflect” over a beer, he told NZ’s The AM Show.
“We’re just gonna go out in the bay and say hi to Hayden and Winona [Langford, the only other victim whose body has not been recovered].
“There’s two of them still out there. We’ll share a cold Steinlager, remember the good times and just reflect … as long we’re out there, saying hi, and remembering everyone.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid emotional tribute to victims of the eruption on the first anniversary of the disaster that claimed 22 lives.
Almost 50 people, mostly Australian tourists, were on the island, also known as Whakaari, in December last year when a column of burning ash and steam blasted from a volcanic vent.
The eruption killed 22 and left dozens more with horrific injuries, prompting a massive medical operation that saw victims treated in burns units across New Zealand and Australia.
Ardern said the disaster was “devastating” for all New Zealanders, as well as families of victims in Australia, Britain, Germany, the United States, China and Malaysia.
The New Zealand leader attended the memorial ceremony at the meeting house of the local Maori tribe, Ngati Awa.
Barefoot and wearing a black dress, Ardern’s voice shook as she said her thoughts were with families around the world remembering loved ones who were lost in New Zealand.
“I say to those who have lost and grieve, you are forever linked to this place and our nation,” she told the service.
“We will continue to hold you close.” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne acknowledged the 17 of her compatriots who died and 11 who suffered serious injuries.
She also expressed pride at the way Australians and New Zealanders worked together to help those affected by the tragedy.
“It is a day our two countries will never forget,” Payne said in a statement.
New Zealand’s workplace safety watchdog announced last week it was pressing criminal charges against 10 organisations and three individuals responsible for tourists being on the volcano when it erupted.
They include government agencies and tour groups, including a charter company operated by Ngati Awa that had ferried most of the visitors to the island on the day of the disaster.
The prosecution does not carry the threat of jail time, with hefty fines being the maximum penalty for anyone found guilty of breaching their duty of care.
White Island, also known as Whakaari, is an active volcano with a long history and this isn’t the first time tragedy has struck.
Some experts have long thought the White Island volcano was too unpredictable to allow daily tours.
Professor Raymond Cas, from Monash University in Victoria, has visited the island twice and has always feared those visiting may be put in danger.
“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” he told the Australian Science Media Centre.
“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”
Professor Ross Dowling, from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, said there had been a notable increase in tourism to active volcano sites.
“Part of the attraction is to visit an unpredictable natural environment and for most tourists they assume that they will be able to visit such dangerous sites in relative safety,” Professor Dowling said.
“However, despite the increased science behind predicting volcanic eruptions, the science is not infallible and ‘active’ volcanoes may erupt at any time.
“Therefore volcanic hazard management guidelines need to be easily understood by the public so that visitors can weigh up their risks in relation to visiting such sites.”
— with AFP