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'Traumatic' road ahead for White Island victims, volcano eruption survivor William Pike says

An adventurer who also faced the devastation of being caught out by an erupting volcano is encouraging others not to lose hope, or be put off exploring the wonders of the outdoors.

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The adventurer talked about his own recovery and what yesterday’s survivors will be dealing with. Source: 1 NEWS

William Pike, who is the director of the William Pike Challenge, was caught in a volcanic eruption on Mt Ruapehu in 2007. He was was staying in Dome Shelter at the time.

He was badly injured in the incident - losing his right leg - but says it hasn't stopped him from climbing.

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Mr Pike recalled hot rocks and debris crushed his body and lahar rushed down the mountainside. It took about five hours to be rescued.

Reflecting on his own experience today, he told 1 NEWS it was tough to read the news yesterday - not only because he felt for those affected, but also it brought up old memories from his experience.

"My heart sunk when I heard the news, knowing that there would be dozens of people up around the crater where it had erupted from.

"Reflecting on my experience, it was a catastrophic scene and being right up there I knew it was going to be some casualties there," he told 1 NEWS.

He said his thoughts were with the victims and their families, with the tough and long journey ahead.

"It's going to be a really traumatic time for them," he said.

But added people shouldn't be put off.

"In instances like this health and safety is a number one concern. We don't want anyone going to a place where there's significant risks of death or injury, but us humans, I think, are really inquisitive people - most of us like adventure and take a risk.

"These place - Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park or White Island - they're all natural wonders and people kind of want to go there. If we start to wrap ourselves up in cotton wool and decide that we're not going to go explore these places then I think there's a loss to that."

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Mr Pike said it was important to take risks to get rewards, but added there was also a fine line to balance of too much and not enough.

"Anyone who goes to an active volcanic region, I think there's enough information out there these days to be aware of perhaps consequences and there's enough information on the activity levels.

"People just need to be reminded that if you are stepping into those places then you're probably going to have an excellent time and enjoy it, but there is always that risk that it could erupt or that force of mother nature that is out of our control."

Mr Pike said yesterday's incident had a lot of similarities to his own experience. He said there was no warning it was going to blow.

He described being atop of mountain staring into crater - similar to yesterday's victims. He recalled being awoken inside shelter on Mt Ruapehu then looking out to see 5 million cubic metres of mud, rock and water blowing up into the air.

"This was just instantaneous in terms of flicking a switch. There was absolutely no warnings. I believe it was a blue sky eruption in this case on White Island too.

"Sadly, there would've been no warning for these people. they're fine one minute then terrible the next minute, so not good."

He described a huge pressure wave of air displaced from the initial blast, followed by "hurricane strength winds".

"Rocks and debris - tiny ones through to huge rocks - were just tumbling down on top of where we were. Thankfully we were encased in a building with two metres of ice around for added protection.

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The death toll is expected to rise with around 24 people thought to be on the island. Source: Breakfast

He received some small sulfur burns on his body, as well as severe crush injuries to his legs. But, he added, "I found myself as being very lucky in that situation".

"It's an awful situation to be in front of an erupting volcano.

"It was one minute fine, the next minute not so - the flicking of a switch and utter disbelief in seeing a volcano erupt in front of my eyes. I could quite clearly see it, it was backlit by a full moon," he recalled.

"My heart just sunk and I didn't have time to react, probably like these victims on White Island, before the debris came raining down on top of me and crushing me and pinning me in the situation.

"It was despair, pain, hopelessness, yeah, terrible," he said, adding he was "exceptionally lucky to survive".

When asked about how yesterday's victims would be coping, Mr Pike said depending on their injuries, they're likely to be in a lot of shock.

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"I think it will be an utter sense of disbelief and I really feel for the tourists there, I think a lot of Australians were there and people from the UK as well. That will be, in a New Zealand hospital away from their friends and family, that must just be incredibly difficult.

"I really encourage the friends and the family to really rally around the victims and give them as much support and as much time as humanly possible so that they can get on that track to recovery."

Mr Pike said it was not just the physical injuries, but also their mental wellbeing which will need to be supported.

"My ability to overcome the physical and mental trauma really was due to the support from my friends and my family, which I'm so grateful for."

Mr Pike also offered his support and ear to victims who may want to talk about their similar experience.

"My key message would be to those patients: just to keep their chin up. Take all the support from friends and family that they're getting given and put their hand up for help if they're needing it."

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Around 50 people were on or around the island at the time of the eruption, and a number are still unaccounted for. Source: 1 NEWS