An Australian woman who survived the White Island volcano eruption that killed her sister and father has recalled watching the skin melt from her fingers immediately after the explosion.
Stephanie Browitt, 23, was touring the island with her 21-year-old sister Krystal and father, Paul, on December 9 along with 47 other tourists when the volcano erupted.
She has spent the last six months painstakingly rebuilding her life and recovering in hospital with burns to 70 per cent of her body, and on Monday revealed her fingers needed to be amputated.
‘I wasn’t that upset,’ she said of the experience. ‘I was grateful I still had my hands because when the eruption happened I remember seeing my hands and realising how bad they were.
Stephanie Browitt (pictured) survived the White Island volcano explosion which killed her father and younger sister
‘My nails were hanging off, skin in shreds and also peeling off and they were black and red in colour, (blood/ash)’.
Surgeons at The Alfred in Melbourne worked tirelessly to save her hands, and Ms Browitt said she was eternally grateful for the efforts of staff.
‘They put so much care into my hands with my skin grafts… They’ve healed amazingly,’ she said.
Ms Browitt has been supported by her mother, Maria, who chose to stay back on the cruise ship rather than visit the island with her husband and daughters.
When first responders arrived on the scene after the explosion, Mr Browitt urged them to save his girls before coming back for him.
Krystal was tragically killed in the initial blast, while Mr Browitt died later in hospital. Nineteen other people also died.
Stephanie Browitt (left, right), 23, took to Instagram on Tuesday to say time has not made the White Island volcano eruption which claimed the lives of her sister and her father any easier
The 23-year-old’s fingers were amputated as part of her recovery. She recalled watching the skin fall off them immediately after the explosion
Ms Browitt credited her father for giving her the strength to hold on during those agonising hours following the blast, revealing he gave her the ‘strength to say [her] name in the hospital’
Ms Browitt credited her father for giving her the strength to hold on during those agonising hours following the blast, revealing he gave her the ‘strength to say [her] name in the hospital’.
But Ms Browitt said it took losing her fingers to realise just how much her body has done for her since she was dragged from the island, off the coast of Whakatane, barely conscious.
‘I didn’t realise how much it would impact my function and fine motor skills,’ she explained.
Her left hand has more mobility than her right. Her thumb can almost touch her pinky on her left hand, while she can barely move what is left of her right hand at all.
But she’s holding off on further surgeries, determined to get the most out of therapy and watch her progress.
‘Although it’s slow, its such a big deal for me,’ Ms Browitt said. ‘Seeing the progress with my hands definitely makes my day, month and year’.
She said she keeps wishing she could turn back time and at least have looked for them and sat with them during the aftermath
Ms Browitt’s fingers were amputated after the explosion. She revealed her left hand is healing faster than her right
While she’s proud of how far she’s come since December 9, Ms Browitt said she is still haunted by the events that took place.
‘Honestly, every time it’s the ninth of each month I can feel my heart racing and my body tense as the memory of it floods back in my mind,’ Ms Browitt wrote on Instagram on the six month anniversary of the blast.
‘I get anxious. I hate it so much, it does not get easier. It just hurts more and more when I think about how much time has passed since I was last with my dad and sister.’
Ms Browitt said despite the time that has passed, she recalls the eruption like it was ‘just yesterday.’
‘Time feels weird now. I just hope every other victim and myself ‘manage’, because that’s all we can do,’ she said.
‘We’re just picking up the pieces of our new lives and doing the best that we can do.
Ms Browitt returned home for the first time last month after spending months in hospital for burns treatment.
Wrapped in a pressure suit and a full-face mask to protect her burns, she embraced her mother Marie who spent months waiting for her now only child to come home when she returned on May 23.
But Ms Browitt said it took losing her fingers to realise just how much her body has done for her since she was dragged from the island, off the coast of Whakatane, barely conscious
Ms Browitt, 23, is seen hugging her mother Marie as she returns home after spending six months recovering in hospital from the White Island volcano eruption
She was surrounded by friends and relatives but due to the fragility of her skin, Ms Browitt could only manage a hug from her mum.
Upon her return home, Ms Browitt’s mother felt her husband and late daughter were watching over ‘like angels’.
The Browitt family had been on the Ovation of the Seas cruise when the two girls along with their father decided to do the White Island tour – while their mother stayed on board.
Sharing a photo of the volcano on the day it erupted, Ms Browitt detailed how her life had been ‘forever changed’.
Stephanie (left with sister Krystal right) tragically lost her sister in the disaster and her father Paul
The 23-year-old returned home for the day last Friday but is now home for good
‘We were heading back off the volcano, when at 2.11pm we looked back and saw ash coming out. Not thinking much of it dad said to take a picture,’ she wrote on Instagram in March.
‘The front tour guide heard us, looked back, and screamed ‘RUN’.
‘BANG. The WORST moment of my life. It was because of this I lost half of my family.
‘It was because of this I still do suffer physically and emotionally.
‘Because of this these photos are no longer good memories, they literally torture me.
A photo taken by Ms Browitt’s sister shows the volcano just moments before it erupted on December 9
‘It’s done and I can’t change it now, but I can change how I choose to move forward. I know people hear this often, but please… keep your loved ones close and always remind them how loved they are.’
Her father and sister were among 21 people who died and Ms Browitt spent time in a coma recovering from her severe injuries.
The 23-year-old previously told the ABC they only found out the volcano was at a level two alert when they were on the island.
Level two is the highest level a volcano can be before it erupts.
‘Once you’re on the island, you can’t get back off,’ she said.
‘I was a little concerned… but at the same time you sort of have trust that we wouldn’t be on here, they wouldn’t be running tours if they thought it was dangerous.’
Ms Browitt and her sister and father had gone on the island tour while their mother stayed on the cruise ship
It was an hour before help arrived as Ms Browitt lay on the ground worried she may not make it out alive.
‘I remember thinking, ‘I need to slow down my breathing or I’m not going to make it’.
When a helicopter crew finally arrived, her father heroically told them to take his daughter back to the mainland first.
A month later he tragically died.
Now six months after the tragedy she is finally home for good.
Friends and family rallied behind the Browitt family, creating a GoFundMe page to pay for medical expenses.
The fundraiser has so far raised an incredible $85,000.
Australian victims in White Island tragedy: The dead and injured
24 Australians were among 47 tourists on New Zealand’s White Island when it erupted.
Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, from Brisbane.
Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, (pictured) from Brisbane are among the dead
Martin Hollander and his wife Barbara
Martin Berend Hollander, 48, from Sydney.
His two sons Berend, 16, and Matthew, 13, who attended Sydney’s Knox Grammar, both died in hospital after suffering serious injuries in the blast.
According to his Linkedin profile, Mr Hollander works at Transport for NSW as a freight initiatives manager.
He is also a director at a Singaporean investment management firm, Wipunen Incrementum Capital.
He was on a family holiday with his wife, who remains unaccounted for, and two kids, who were confirmed dead on Thursday.
Martin Berend Hollander, 48, from Sydney, was formally identified on Monday. His wife Barbara (left) is yet to be formally identified
Gavin Dallow, 53, and stepdaughter Zoe Hosking, 15, from Adelaide
The Hosking/Dallow family had been on a tour at the time of the eruption. Mum Lisa Dallow is among the injured in hospital. Her husband Gavin (right) 53, and 15-year-old daughter Zoe, from Adelaide, (left) were confirmed dead on Wednesday
Mr Dallow’s body was identified by police from the five bodies recovered from the island. Zoe was formally identified as a victim on Sunday.
Karla Mathews, 32, and Richard Elzer, 32, from Coffs Harbour, NSW
Karla Mathews (left), 32, is dead as is boyfriend Richard Elzer (right), 32, from Coffs Harbour
The couple were identified as those tourists still on the island and therefore presumed dead by their families.
Jason Griffiths, 33, Coffs Harbour, NSW
Jason Griffiths, 33, from Coffs Harbour was taken to hospital in critical condition but died from his injuries on Wednesday
Jason Griffiths, 33, from Coffs Harbour, NSW, died from his injuries after being taken to hospital in critical condition.
He had been on a tour of the volcano with couple Karla Mathews, 32, and Richard Elzer, 32, who are now presumed dead, friends said.
Matthew (Year 8) and Berend Hollander (Year 10) from Sydney
Matthew (left, year eight) and Berend (right, year 10) Hollander were confirmed dead on Thursday morning
Knox Grammar schoolboy brothers Matthew, 13, and Berend, 16, Hollander.
They died in two New Zealand hospitals after escaping the island with horrific burns.
Their father Martin was confirmed dead.
Krystal Browitt, 21, from Melbourne, and her father Paul
Krystal Browitt was on the cruise for her 21st birthday with family
Ms Browitt was on the Ovation of the Seas cruise for her 21st birthday with family.
Mr Browitt died on 13 January in hospital.
Their mother Marie escaped death by staying on the cruise liner.
Anthony Langford, 51, and his wife Kristine Langford, 45, from Sydney
Anthony Langford, 51, (pictured with wife Kristine) had been among those still unaccounted for in the disaster. He was confirmed dead by police on Sunday
Kristine Langford, 45, from Sydney, is also among those dead.
The couple’s 19-year-old son Jesse survived the volcano eruption, and is recovering in hospital with burns to 90 per cent of his body.
Mr Langford worked for Sydney Water.
Winona Langford, 17, Sydney
Police said Winona Lanford (pictured centre back row between her parents Anthony and Kristine) was one of the missing bodies still on White Island. She is not thought to have survived
NZ Police said one of the bodies still missing on White Island belonged to 17-year-old Winona Langford from Sydney.
Winona’s mother and father have been confirmed dead.
Her body is either entombed on the deadly volcano island or is in the sea.
Lisa Dallow, 49, from Adelaide
Lisa Dallow (right with her husband Gavin who is missing), 49, from Adelaide
She was an induced coma in Hamilton Hospital, with 57 per cent of her body burnt.
Jesse Langford, 19, Sydney
Found: Jesse Langford (pictured with Michelle Spring, believed to be his girlfriend) is in hospital but his condition is not clear
He is reported to have suffered burns to 90 per cent of his body.