News of the 9th December 2019 Whakaari White Island eruption made my heart skip a beat. My thoughts instantly went to the victims, then to their whanau and friends. From past experience as a survivor of a volcanic eruption, I knew exactly what both parties would be experiencing. My heart goes out to all those grieving and affected from this tragic event.

In 2007 I was critically injured on Mt. Ruapehu when it unexpectedly erupted. A large explosive gas eruption from under the Crater Lake sent rocks of all sizes, acidic sulphuric water and snow skywards. This debris came crashing down on top of the small building my friend and I were sleeping in. The rocks and acidic water caused me significant traumatic crush injuries and minor sulphur burns.

Although the Whakaari White Island and Mt. Ruapehu eruptions appear very similar – they key difference was the extreme heat and steam from Whakaari White Island that caused significant burns to victims. My situation was quite the opposite, I was left crushed and fighting for my life in sub zero temperatures as hypothermia set in. I need to acknowledge that burns are likely to cause significant complexity to recovery, and victims will likely face far greater challenges that I did.

I recall waking up in hospital, staring at the roof of the intensive care where I remained for 3 weeks of my 9 week hospital stay. Once the wild mix of drugs wore off, I realised I had hit a fork in the road. One road was the ‘easy road and the other was the ‘hard road’. The easy road consisted of living small, shying away from challenge, sitting around home and living a completely different life. The hard road consisted of not giving up, setting big goals and chasing that life of adventure I was familiar with and wanted so bad. I made my decision – the hard road and with that came a high chance of failure. In hospital I had no idea how I would, or if I could get my life back on track. Looking back over the past 12 years, here are my top 3 ideas that got me through;

Setting 3 big goals – these gave me something to live and aim for in my darkest times; learn to walk, climb again, go back to work. They seemed impossible at the time, but I achieved them after years of hard work.

Putting my hand up for help – when I was struggling physically and mentally, I’d talk about it. Having my closest family and friends at my side was critical to my success.

Stepping outside my comfort zone – my world had been flipped and I had to become comfortable being uncomfortable. That meant taking little steps often towards my goals and get used to my new world.

At the time of writing, the recovery on Whakaari White Island eruption is still underway. Let’s have faith in New Zealand’s Search and Rescue, Police, Defence Force, hospital staff and other professionals involved. Speaking from first hand experience they’re world class, they’re trying to do their absolute best.

As New Zealanders, we need to come together and give as much time and support to those affected by the eruption as possible. There aren’t too many people who have had front row seats to a volcanic eruption, so as a survivor, I’m extending an open invitation to those injured and affected by the Whakaari White Island eruption to contact me. I want to do my bit and give back and helpout. Let’s talk about our experiences and the road to recovery together.

Kia kaha,
William Pike

More about William Pike’s Mt. Ruapehu survival.