Regional | Whakaari

Family of Whakaari White Island victims describe impact of eruption four years on

The whānau of those who died after Whakaari White Island erupted over four years ago have begun to speak about the ongoing effects the disaster has had on them.

Forty-seven people were on the crater when it erupted on 9 December, 2019, with 22 dying from extreme burns and blast injuries.

Five companies who pleaded guilty and one company who was found guilty in judge- alone trial will now be sentenced for failing to meet their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act in the lead-up to the eruption.

On day one of the sentencing hearing at the Auckland District Court, Judge Evangelos Thomas welcomed survivors of the “tragedy” and the families of those who died on the island to submit their victim impact statements.

Judge Thomas acknowledged that “four years is far too long to wait for your voices to be heard”.

“This is an important moment in the history of the island and the history of the tragedy,” he said.

Father and son - John Cozad, 76, and Christopher Cozad, 43 - were on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship from Australia when they decided to take a day trip to the island on December 9, 2019.

While Christopher died as a result of his injuries, John was in a coma for over a month and suffered serious burns.

In one of the victim impact statements heard by the court on Monday, Christopher’s mother and John’s wife, Beverley Cozad, described how her husband’s first word when he woke up from a coma was their son’s name - “Christopher”.

Christopher’s life support had already been turned off.

The family of Australian couple Richard (Rick) Elzer, 32 and Karla Mathews, 32, told the court that the “true love” couple’s trip to the island was the last stop on a world tour.

“I will remember them as forever young at 32 years of age,” Elzer’s father, Peter Elzer, said.

Having learnt more about where on the island Elzer and Mathews were at the time of the eruption through witness accounts at the trial, Peter said:

“I have a new realisation of the endured pain and suffering our loved ones would have suffered before succumbing to their injuries.

“I am haunted by visions of the events that day,” he said.

Mieke Elzer said she was brought peace by the thought her younger brother died with his “one true love”.

Elzer’s oldest sister, Mieke Elzer, told the court she had wrestled between thinking things happen for a reason and wanting someone held responsible in the wake of her brother’s death.

Through the trial, Mieke said she came to realise that “with a tragedy those things do not need to be mutually exclusive”.

“Sometimes things do happen for a reason and sometimes people do need to be held responsible,” she said.

The sentencing hearing continued on Tuesday, with more victim impact statements expected.

- Stuff