‘The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari’ Explained: What Happened To The Visitors Of The Whakaari?

Netflix brings us yet another informative documentary called “The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari.” This time, it’s about nature. Have you experienced the wrath of nature? Well, some victims of the Whakaari volcanic eruption did. They had to suffer nature’s revenge when they decided to go to the darker side of it. If you go to a scientifically dangerous place, there’s always a risk, but that doesn’t stop adventurous travelers. We see a documentary that gives us a glimpse of the dark side of volcanoes. They might look fascinating, but when they erupt, they are more than just pretty. What happened on December 9, 2019?

What seemed like a normal day for the residents of the North Island of New Zealand turned into a dreadful one real soon. “The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari” documents the experiences of the survivors of a volcanic eruption mishap. The survivors share the horrors they experienced with the audience. First, we get a good description of the island, and the people of North Island describe the place as a beautiful tourist spot. They explain how the day affected their family and took a toll on their mental health as well. All of them still looked very shocked talking about it years later. However, one would wonder, why would someone put themselves through situations like this?

At the beginning of “The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari,” we get to see the North Island of New Zealand up close. We see how beautiful it is, and how there are multiple tourist spots to visit. In 2019, a couple of tourists who were there for a cruise on the sea discovered an adventurous sport. It was a visit to an active volcano. Whakaari is a volcano that erupted just three years before the visit of these tourists. One of the tourists said his daughter had been a fan of volcanoes and wanted to witness one up close. To go to the volcano, one had to board a ship and go to the banks of the volcano. From there, there was an itinerary to follow. The tour guides told them different stories and moved along with them. They were also there to ensure the safety of the visitors. One couple was in New Zealand for their honeymoon. Now, one would wonder, there are a lot of other tourist spots in a beautiful country like New Zealand; why would someone choose to visit an active volcano? Well, the authorities of the Whakaari described the experience so positively that none of the visitors thought it was dangerous. While watching the whole documentary, you do feel bad for the victims, but one must also realize there are consequences to choosing a dangerous adventure.

An Australian tourist, Jesse Langford, talks in detail about his family. He had gone to the Whakaari with his parents and sister. Sadly, for him, only he survived the volcanic eruption. However, when they reached the Whakaari, the clips shown in “The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari” proved that the place was extremely beautiful. There are multiple clips of people who went to visit the volcano. The rocks, the gas, and the lake in the middle of the volcano, where the crust is, sure look picturesque. Before the volcanic eruption, the first ship that reached the coast had different, divided teams. These teams would then go around the volcano, click pictures together, and come back. The first team made it back to their ship, and as they were going, they witnessed the volcanic eruption on their way back. We see some footage of these people on the ship crying and praying to God. There is not much one can do as an outsider to help while nature plays its role.

As for the people on the island at the time of the eruption, they describe their experience as horrendous. For them, everything went pitch black for two minutes, but those two minutes felt like an eternity to them. The survivors describe themselves as trying to just hold on and wait for the eruption to cool down. To their dismay, they were burning in the ashes of the volcano and were inhaling several harmful gases coming out of it. According to Jesse Langford, his family was into anything that gave them a rush of adrenaline but imagine the horror they faced as a family. Not knowing where your family is and being burnt alive is the worst possible scenario one can imagine. The whole documentary feels like a 1-hour horror movie in which you just pray the outcome will be different this time. There were a total of 47 visitors that day. Most of them were left on the island when it erupted. One of the commercial pilots who had taken visitors on a helicopter jumped into the sea and held his breath for as long as he could. He then shared his experience and said soon, the clouds of ash would reach the sea. The people on the ship that was sailing during the time of the eruption decided to go back and help the visitors. Some of them were waiting on the shore, screaming and crying.

Geoff Hopkins, a tourist who was on the safe side of the eruption on the ship, described praying for the visitors who were on the island. One of the tourist guides who died on the island that day was not even supposed to be at work; he was filling in for someone else. His mother warns people in the documentary never to visit the volcano. Even though it is now closed to visitors, over 21 people lost their lives on that dreadful day. However, the good thing we see in “The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari” is that the communities came closer and supported each other. It is human nature to help, and good people always stick around. That is what the strength of human nature is—they are ready to help and put others before themselves, and that is exactly what the tour guides did. They helped people get on boats and helicopters before them and gave their lives up to help the injured tourists. We see how the authorities and rescue teams let people down since they did not help as much as they should have. However, the hospital employees gave strength to the injured survivors. Most of the survivors still have to go through surgeries years later. They try to move on, but the incident still haunts them. After the incident that took place at the Whakaari, the lost lives are still remembered, and one of the employees at the North Island still goes to the sea to drink some beer and pour a glass into the sea in remembrance of the tour guides who lost their lives.


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Tarushi Patali
Tarushi Patali
Tarushi is an English Literature graduate, who is currently doing master's in mass communication from Mumbai. She loves making lists and is an avid reader. Also, she likes judging people by their movie taste. In her leisure time you would find her digging random conspiracy pages on Reddit!

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