A woman who survived the White Island volcano eruption has removed her mask for the first time since the tragedy unfolded.
Stephanie Coral Browitt was one of around 50 tourists on the New Zealand island when the volcano explosively erupted in 2019, killing 22 including her sister Krystal and father Paul.
A further 25 were injured, including Stephanie who suffered burns to 70 percent of her body. In the years that followed, she’s had multiple surgeries and skin grafts, and has had to wear compression bandages including full face mask.
That is, until a recent episode of the Australian edition of 60 Minutes, where the 26-year-old from Melbourne bravely removed her mask for the first time to reveal the incredible results of her recovery.
Prior to taking the covering off, Stephanie says: “It’s actually quite daunting as it is exciting,” before presenter Sarah Abo comments: “It’s a moment years in the making.”
The face mask was the last of the compression bandages Stephanie had been wearing in order to help her skin heal from the accident.
Looking into the mirror after taking it off, she’s understandably delighted with the results. As talk turns to the gravity of her incredible journey, Sarah asks Stephanie what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
“I see a person who has gone through so much more than I ever expected to go through in life. I see a very tormented person.
“As much as this is exciting, it has been a long, hard journey to get here. I am tougher than I ever thought I would be.
While the moment marked a celebratory milestone, it also reminded Stephanie of who she was missing.
“I do wish my dad and sister were still alive and still with me and that they could be here for this moment,” she said.
“I just hope that I have made them proud of who I’ve become over the past few years. That’s all I can wish for.”
Prior to her appearance on 60 Minutes, Stephanie has been keeping her followers updated about her recovery on TikTok, where she recently took the brave decision to recall the events of the eruption in a video and clear up assumptions about her injuries.
“A lot have asked what actually burnt me that day, some think it’s lava, and the answer is no, it wasn’t lava,” she said in a clip. “The volcano didn’t actually erupt lava, instead what we were caught in was pyroclastic flow.”
Pyroclastic flow is a mix of hot gases and volcanic matter, including ash. As she explained, it’s actually far more deadly than lava, because the cloud flows so fast that it’s impossible to run away from.
In the face of such a devastating tragedy, Stephanie has demonstrated how she always manages to stay positive with the help of her mum, and by looking to other burn-survivors like Katie Piper and Turia Pitt for inspiration.