In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)

In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)

Canadian actor aboard cruise ship saw beginning of New Zealand volcano eruption

There are no reports of Canadians affected

A Canadian man says he is still “shaky” from the experience of witnessing the beginnings of a volcanic eruption in New Zealand.

The volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam as dozens of tourists were exploring its moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving eight others missing and feared dead, authorities said.

Sylvain Plasse, an actor from Toronto who is aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, said he saw “huge smokes and plumes that went in billowing and then slowly morphing into different shapes and then being swept away” on an island across from him about 90 kilometres away.

Plasse was witnessing the beginnings of the eruption on White Island off the New Zealand coast.

At the time, he’d been taking a walk Monday afternoon on the foothills of Mount Maunganui in New Zealand. He’d climbed the steep slopes, got a bird’s eye view of the beaches around the mountain and Tauranga, the city where his cruise ship is docked, and took lots of pictures of the ”stunning” day, he said.

Plasse thought the smoke was from stacks from a factory.

But a local jogger pointed to the smoke and said to him: “‘Wow. See. Look at that. You get to experience one of our local volcanoes erupting. It’s a special day.’”

After the eruption, helicopter crews landed on White Island despite the danger and helped evacuate many survivors, some of them suffering critical burns. But officials said Tuesday they were still working with scientific experts to determine when it would be safe to return to the island to search for the missing.

Plasse described the experience as ”just surreal.”

“A day which was phenomenal was made even better (by seeing an eruption) until I got back to the ship and rumours started swirling that some crew and passengers were on tour of the volcano. And that joy turned to guilt and sadness. It was horrifying. It was totally heartbreaking.”

He said the event is “still sinking in.”

The volcano erupted almost halfway through the 12-day cruise, and the captain has been giving passengers regular updates, he said.

He said that so far the captain hasn’t confirmed whether there are any injuries or deaths.

READ MORE: 5 dead, many more missing in eruption of New Zealand volcano

Global Affairs said in a statement the Government of Canada is closely monitoring the situation in New Zealand.

“At this time, there are no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected. Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather more information. We offer sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, and wish those injured a speedy recovery.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said aircraft have flown over the island repeatedly, and “no signs of life have been seen at any point.”

Many of the 47 visitors on the island at the time of the eruption were Australian, and Ardern said New Zealanders and tourists from the United States, China, Britain and Malaysia were also affected.

Relatives of a newlywed American couple say the husband and wife were severely burned. Barbara Barham told The Washington Post that her daughter Lauren Urey, 32, and son-in-law Matthew Urey, 36, from Richmond, Virginia, were on a honeymoon trip.

Plasse said he had drinks with the couple the night before.

White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano some 50 kilometres off mainland New Zealand. Scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks, and questions were being raised about why tourists were still being allowed on the island.

Ardern said White Island is a “very unpredictable volcano,” and questions about whether tourists should be visiting will have to be addressed, “but for now, we’re focused on those who are caught up in this horrific event.”

New Zealand police said Tuesday they were opening a criminal investigation into the deaths.

— With files from The Associated Press

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Vancouver Island North reported just two new cases last week. (BC CDC)
North Island holding COVID-19 mostly at bay

Just two new cases were confirmed last week

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of North Island conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read