Volcano hosted lawyers’ Christmas party 48hrs before it blew
Barrister Rita Nabney had considered herself fortunate when she took her staff to White Island for an end-of-year Christmas treat and a geyser suddenly blew, spewing molten mud and steam high into the air.
It was a hint of something bigger, the start of the eruption below the surface. Some 48-hours later she and her team realised how truly lucky they were.
The video the group took of the day of the geyser could now become crucial evidence as authorities look to the lead up to Monday, when the active volcano blew, killing up to 14 and injuring more than 30 others.
"It was a Christmas do and we thought rather than go out for dinner we'd do something a bit more exciting," Mrs Nabney told News Corp Australia.
"So we flew out there in two helicopters and walked about then we saw mud coming out of the side of the crater lake, similar to a geyser in Rotorua.
"We at the time thought we were quite fortunate to see that. Of course now we are terribly sorry for the fatalities and people who have been injured. We do feel blessed we were standing on that spot 48 hours earlier. We never imagined."
A 20-second video shows the mud geyser and steam, a voice then cuts in to suggest it was time for the group to move on.
Before they embarked on their trip, Mrs Nabney said her team knew the risks and were given safety equipment and a thorough briefing, including of the existence of an emergency steel shelter on the island. They were also told the threat level had risen to 2 out of 5: "moderate and heightened unrest".
Mrs Nabney was there with her husband and son, also both local barristers, office support staff and their partners.
One of the staff on the trip Toni Nickalls said when she heard the news she initially thought it was just another eruption, but then it was announced there were victims.
It was a shock and she said she felt for those directly affected.
"I just thought: 'Crikey, we were there only 48 hours earlier'," she said, describing the scene as something from another world.
"(Organisers) told us: 'It is at Level 2 and if it gets any higher we stop', and I thought: 'OK, we're not taking further risks but nobody knows, it can shoot from a (Level) 2 to what we see today. It's so unpredictable. That's the problem'."