A teenager who was critically injured in the Whakaari/White Island eruption has described what went through his mind in the hours following the tragedy.
On December 9, Whakatane’s Jake Milbank should have been celebrating his 19th birthday.
However, the White Island Tours guide received burns to 80 per cent of his body when Whakaari erupted, killing 21 of the 47 people on the island.
Speaking with Newshub, Milbank described the hours following the eruption as a matter of “fight or flight”.
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“You know what you’ve got to do to, I guess, survive and that was all I was really thinking about doing at the time.”
It was an hour and a half before Milbank would be seen by paramedics on land, during which he was “just trying to stay … awake”.
“[I was] constantly reminding myself and had others around me reminding me that we were nearly back and it was all going to be all good,” he told Newshub.
Later on, Milbank found comfort in talking to others caught up in the eruptions. They would often pass each other in the wards in Middlemore Hospital while heading to appointments.
After spending two weeks in a coma and enduring 25 surgeries, Milbank was discharged in early April, just four months after the accident – which doctors described as record time.
“To be able to walk out of hospital in less than four months after sustaining 80 per cent burns is almost unheard of,” he said in an update posted on Givealittle.
He said he would be forever grateful for those who tried to help those injured in the eruption.
“Without them, there’s a good chance that some of us might not actually be here.”
While the Givealittle page raised more than $150,000 for his recovery, it was the kind words received from around the world that kept him going.
“You have all given me the strength and encouragement I needed, to keep working hard, and striving for the best possible outcome,” he said last month.
While many in Milbank’s position would fear going back the Whakaari/White Island, he hasn’t ruled it out.
“It does send the shivers down your spine a little bit, gives you goosebumps. I wouldn’t get too close, but I’d definitely like to go and have another look,” he told Newshub.