Dad and Daughter Sprung Into Action to Save Burned Volcano Victims: 'Lives' Were 'In Our Hands'

Dad and Daughter Sprung Into Action to Save Burned Volcano Victims: 'Lives' Were 'In Our Hands'


A New Zealand father and daughter on their way back from a day exploring a local volcano together went from sightseers to first responders in the blink of an eye after the volcano erupted without warning.

The blast sent dozens of injured victims scrambling — and many found refuge in the tour boat carrying Geoff Hopkins and daughter Lillani, 22, away from White Island Monday afternoon.

“[There was] lots of screaming, panicked screaming,” Geoff, 50, told CNN. “[They were shouting], ‘Get me out of here, I’m burning, I’m burning!’”

Forty-seven people were on the island when the volcano erupted, and 23 managed to board Hopkins’ vessel, which he said turned around once its passengers and crew realized what had happened.

“A rolling, rumbling mass of ash tumbled over the cliff face, in all directions, and it completely engulfed the island,” Geoff told The New York Times. “It cut out the sun, it went dark. You couldn’t see that there was an island there. It was completely covered in ash.”

Because Geoff, a local pastor, and his daughter were both trained in first aid, they were called upon to help the victims, many of whom suffered severe burns to their face, arms and legs, as they swam off the island.

“There were 23 people that had their lives in our hands,” Lillani told Stuff. “It was probably the longest two hours of my life.”

She said she looked after two critical patients, while her father tended to about five people in critical condition.

Lillani said many helpers wound up wearing only their bras as they stripped off their clothes to try and help keep the burn victims warm as they went into shock.

“In the last 10 minutes we ran out of fresh water and there was nothing I could do but be with them,” she said. “A lot of people were just screaming and crying. The whole way back.”

For Geoff, two victims — Virginia-based newlyweds Matthew Urey and Lauren Barham — have haunted his mind since that fateful day, when he worked hard to keep them conscious.

“She said, ‘This is the worst day of my life.’ And I had to say, ‘Yes it is. But you’ve got so much more of your life to live,’” Geoff told CNN. “When she says, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna make it,’ you rebuke that. ‘You are gonna make it. You’re strong. You’re a fighter. You’re gonna get through this. You’ve got a future.’”

The couple — who were traveling on Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Ovation of the Seas — previously made headlines after Matthew left his mother a harrowing voicemail informing her of the situation.

“It’s absolutely soul-crushing. It’s my worst nightmare,” his mother Janet Urey told CNN. “But on the other hand I’m trying to focus on the positive. I was lucky enough to be notified by Matt that was okay. There were so many families that didn’t get any word. Minutes could have been life or death for them.”

She said 33 percent of her son’s body was burned in the eruption, and that his severe injuries will require plastic surgery and skin grafts.

Lauren Barham and Matt Urey

“It was his trip of a lifetime,” she said. “He put so much work and effort and time into planning this to make it just what they wanted. This would be the perfect honeymoon.”

Lauren’s mother Barbara Barham confirmed to PEOPLE on Tuesday that she was en route to New Zealand to see her daughter.

Barham said Lauren was recovering from burns covering 20 percent of her body at a hospital in Auckland, the Washington Post reported.

There are 29 patients being treated in intensive care and burn units at four different hospitals throughout New Zealand, Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of Counties Manukau Health, said at a press conference Wednesday. Twenty-four of the burn patients remain in critical condition.

Eight people were killed in the Monday blast, which happened just after 2 p.m. while 47 travelers were on the island, police said.

Thirty-eight of the tourists — who were from the United States, Australia, China, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — were traveling on Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, the New Zealand Herald reported.

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