Whakaari/White Island: New photos show survivor Stephanie Browitt’s recovery progress

Warning: Contains distressing images

A survivor of the deadly eruption of Whakaari/White Island has shared her hard-fought progress on the long road to recovery, posting photos showing the remarkable changes brought by her strength of will – and the marvels of medicine.

Stephanie Browitt, 24, shared the harrowing photos on social media, updating her followers with the message: “Hard work pays off”.

Browitt suffered burns to 70 per cent of her body as a result of the eruption on December 19 2019 that killed her father Paul and sister Krystal.

In total, 22 people lost their lives in the disaster.

She regularly shares her progress on social media, giving updates on her journey to recover from her life-changing injuries.

The Browitt family from Melbourne were cruise ship passengers on board Ovation of the Seas to celebrate Krystal Browitt’s 21st birthday when she, her father and sister Stephanie took an excursion to White Island with other tourists on December 9.

Wife and mother, Marie, opted to stay onboard the cruise ship.

In her latest post, Browitt shared the dramatic improvement to the skin on her back, an area she said had caused her considerable distress.

“One of the areas of my body I was most upset about was my back, but witnessing the large improvements with my skin astounds me,” Browitt wrote.

“I didn’t believe much could be done or change but of course I underestimated my own body and the teams that work on me.”

The four photos show the changes from August 2020 to April 2021.

“As my hospital weight naturally falls off, the indents that separate my normal skin from the grafts are becoming less noticeable and more ‘even’,” she said.

“The thick webbing of scars is also beginning to break down in thickness and colour, thanks to time but also laser.

“The redness on my normal skin around the burns is where they took donor skin from to perform my skin grafts and they have also lightened in colour.”

Browitt told her followers patience had been key to her recovery and offered encouragement to other burns survivors.

“Sometimes good things come in time and you have to learn to be patient. I’ve definitely come to realise that with my recovery and healing.

“It’s a long journey but a very rewarding one and photos like these remind me why the hard work is worth going through. For other survivors, the hard work pays off.”

Browitt has previously revealed the details of how the family trip turned to tragedy.

On the day of the eruption, the Browitts reached the centre of the island at about 2pm, and took a picture together at the edge of the steaming crater lake at 2.04pm.

Six minutes afterwards they were headed to the jetty when Whakaari/White island erupted.

Krystal managed to capture the moment it began on camera, with a gas cloud beginning to emerge from near the crater lake.

Their tour guide instructed the group to start running and before Browitt was able to put her gas mask on her face she was hit by a wave of ash and rock.

“It felt like a wave, like it just takes you,” she said.

“I was just knocked over. I was tumbling, rolling, for minutes. I mean it felt like forever until it stopped and then it was just burning hot.

“I remember trying to stand up and it took so much energy just to stand up I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe how hard this is’. My legs just felt like jelly.”

After getting to her feet and walking for a short time, Browitt fell and tumbled down a small hill and landed among a group of people.

Help only arrived nearly an hour after the volcano erupted.


A post shared by Stephanie Coral Browitt (@stephaniecoral96)

No one was able to move, Browitt said. As they waited for help, the sun made her burns more painful.

She heard her father call out her name and she called back to him before everything went quiet, Browitt said.

“I think a lot of people gave up on screaming,” she said.

“But every 15 to 20 minutes, I’d hear my name again. My dad was yelling out my name and I realised he was checking up on me to make sure I was awake.”

Browitt was rescued by helicopter pilot Jason Hill but not before the pilots tried to load Paul in first, who told them to take his daughters first.

After landing at Whakatāne, a 20-minute flight from the volcano, Browitt was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Browitt and her father Paul were flown to Melbourne and Paul died in hospital four weeks after the eruption.

Krystal’s body was discovered on the island on December 13.

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