News World From dream holiday to ‘war zone’: Families want answers over White Island volcano visit

From dream holiday to ‘war zone’: Families want answers over White Island volcano visit

Jason Griffiths, Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer died after the volcano erupted. Photo: AAP/Supplied
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It had been a dream holiday for friends and families on board the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

On Monday, passengers headed separate ways: some relaxing on deck, others headed to the popular Hobbit attraction on the New Zealand mainland.

The 47 who chose to tour White Island never returned to the ship. Eight people have been confirmed dead, and though authorities have been unable to retrieve bodies from the island it’s almost certain many more have not survived.

On Thursday morning, it emerged another two young Australians were among the lives lost. Brothers Berend and Matthew Hollander, students at Sydney’s Knox Grammar, had been holidaying with their parents Martin and Barbara when the volcano erupted.

Year 10 student Berend Hollander and his brother year 8 student Matthew Hollander. Photo: Hollander family

Now questions are being asked over what information was given to the tourists who signed on to the excursion to the country’s most active volcano.

Like dozens of other families, relatives of Adelaide man Gavin Dallow – who was confirmed dead on Wednesday – want to know whether the risks were discussed. 

“Gavin was always one for being fairly articulate on what he did,” his father Brian Dallow said on Wednesday. 

Gavin Dallow died after the blast. His wife Lisa Dallow remains in hospital. Photo: Facebook/Rotary Adelaide

“So, I think if he had known there was a danger he wouldn’t have gone on it.

“I’m pretty well sure they weren’t fully informed of the danger.”

Authorities will probe whether the group was adequately informed, and already there is talk in the New Zealand media about whether the cruise ship or tour companies could be sued.

But it will be a long time before families have answers.

And, for now, there are far greater priorities.

Like a ‘war zone’

Emergency doctor John Bonning had been wheeling patients into Waikato Hospital on Monday when he was confronted with the pungent smell of sulfur dioxide coming from their clothing and saw “bits of dead skin” and “broken ash” peeling off their bodies.

“It was awful, just horrific. Saying it was like a war zone would not be an understatement,” said Dr Bonning, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

“It’s one of the most challenging things to look at because you know the patients are in so much pain and will be fighting for their life for the next two or three weeks and even then they could die,” he told NZ Herald.

Waikato is just one of four burns units in New Zealand that are working round-the-clock to treat the 29 patients who suffered severe burns from Monday’s volcanic eruption.

Local health authorities have reportedly ordered 1.2 million square centimeters of allograft skin from the US to heal survivors, some of whom have suffered burns to at least 30 per cent of their bodies.

In the meantime, patients’ limbs are being wrapped in plastic Glad Wrap to keep their wounds clean and offer some temporary relief.

The amount needed for the volcano victims comes from about 60 donors but only between five to 10 New Zealanders donate skin in a year.

Up to 10 Australians being treated in Christchurch are expected to be transported on Thursday to burns units in Sydney and Melbourne.

Three government-dispatched air force planes departed for Christchurch on Wednesday to carry out the repatriation exercise.

It’s now a matter of doctors being able to clear them safe to travel.

A towering blast of ash and boiling hot steam erupted from White Island on December 9. Photo: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust/AAP

Tributes for more Australian casualties

The two Sydney brothers who died in hospital after being rescued from the ashen island have been remembered as vibrant, active students. 

Knox Grammar headmaster Scott James said the death of the boys was a “devastating loss for our community”.

“Matthew was a vibrant member of the class of 2023,” he wrote in a letter to school parents on Thursday.

“He was involved in cadets and representing the school in basketball, squash and debating. He was elected as a Mentor Representative in 2018/19. Matthew had a close circle of friends and was popular amongst his peers.

“He was always enthusiastic about life.”

Berend, known as Ben, was passionate about AFL, cadets and baseball.

“Ben’s engaging smile and quirky sense of humour made him a good mate to his close group of friends and a welcome member to every classroom,” the school said.

“He had a great love for the outdoors and camp. Ben was a compassionate and enthusiastic student.”

Knox students have been offered counselling to deal with the tragedy.

Of the 47 people on or near the island at the time of the blast, 24 were Australians aged between 13 to 72.

Seven Australians and two New Zealanders have been named by police as either dead or presumed dead. Five people have been flown home to Australia for further medical help, while others remain in hospital in New Zealand. 

Gavin Dallow, his stepdaughter, Zoe Hosking and her mother Lisa Dallow. Photo: Supplied

Gavin Dallow, 53, is one of the latest confirmed to have died after the blast.

His wife, Lisa Dallow, 48, was found alive on Tuesday and remains in a critical condition in Hamilton with serious burns.

But Ms Dallow’s 15-year-old daughter Zoe Hosking is missing.

Another three Australians –Jason Griffiths, Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer – were confirmed dead by their families on Wednesday.

Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer, from Coffs Harbour, died in the volcano disaster. Photo:

Six close friends who accompanied the trio on a cruise earlier this month released a statement in which they expressed their devastation at learning the trio were on White Island when it erupted.

They discovered Mr Elzer and Ms Mathews were still on the island, where there were no signs of life.

“We then located our third friend, Jason Griffiths, in a hospital in the early hours of the next morning,” their statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

“From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members.”

Jason Griffiths died in hospital on Wednesday. Photo: Facebook

Mr Griffiths is believed to have sustained burns to 80 per cent of his body.

The group was “incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends” and asked that their privacy be respected.

Meanwhile, Helicopter pilot Mark Law told The Australian the bodies of the eight people left on the island could have been retrieved had local police not instructed them to stand down.

Mr Law helped evacuate a group of survivors after the eruption but said he was “just gutted” when he and two other pilots were “stood down”.

-with AAP