A 26-year-old Australian woman who suffered burns in 70 per cent of her body when a volcano erupted on an island in New Zealand has taken off her compression mask and revealed her face for the first time since the incident.
Stephanie Browitt was visiting the White Island volcano in New Zealand’s northeastern Bay of Plenty region on 9 December 2019 when it erupted.
The eruption led to the deaths of 22 people at the time, including Ms Browitt’s sister Krystal and father Paul.
During an interview with Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes Australia, the volcanic eruption survivor said removing her mask was a “big deal” for her and that she believed “this day would never come.”
“It’s emotional and scary. It is actually quite daunting as much as it is exciting,” she said.
Ms Browitt had to keep wearing the mask for more than two years because of the severe burns she sustained in the eruption.
After removing the mask, she looked into the mirror and said: “I see a person who has gone through so much more than I ever expected to go through in life. I see a very tormented person.”
“As much as this is exciting, it has been a long, hard journey to get here. I am tougher than I ever thought I would be.”
“I have learnt that the fight for survival is a real thing. I was literally fighting every day to survive, to just get back to being myself. I never knew that I had this in me,” she continued.
Ms Browitt said during the interview that she wished her sister and father could be with her.
The Browitt family had gone on a trip to White Island that was part of a holiday aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise. The excursion to the island was an activity offered by the cruise company.
Ms Browitt’s mother had decided to stay on the ship while her husband and two daughters had gone with the excursion group.
There were 47 people touring the White Island when the volcano erupted. When black smoke started appearing from the centre of the volcano, Ms Browitt recalled her father and sister started walking away from the crater.
There were 14 Australians among the 22 dead in that volcanic eruption. About 25 were seriously injured, including Ms Browitt.
She had recalled in an earlier interview that “we heard the front tour guide scream ‘run’ and that’s when we realised and made the split-second decision to just bolt”.
“It was coming from behind and getting louder and louder as it was coming closer and you could hear all the rocks. You could hear the sound of all the rocks hitting the ground and people just screaming. I didn’t think I would survive… I thought I was going to die.”
Ms Browitt was in a coma for two weeks after the volcanic eruption.
She has since chronicled her journey to recovery on social media.
The survivor said during the interview that she was certain her future was “pretty bleak” and that she had to “start from scratch like a baby”.
“Sitting upright, getting out of bed, taking my first few steps, even feeding myself – I had to relearn all of those skills from scratch and they didn’t come easy at all,” she said.
“It was incredibly difficult. There have been plenty of moments where I have wanted to give up, or I have just been in tears not wanting to do anything. But I do feel I have come a long way from day one.”
Ms Browitt is in the process of suing Royal Caribbean Cruises over the physical and psychological injuries she has suffered.