Sun. May 26th, 2024

A New Zealand firm which managed a volcanic island that erupted in 2019, killing 22 people, has been found guilty of breaching health and safety law.

A further 25 people were seriously injured when White Island, known as Whakaari, suddenly erupted and spewed steam and ash.

A district court in Auckland on Tuesday found Whakaari Management Ltd failed in its duty to minimise the risk to visitors.

Judge Evangelos Thomas found the company guilty on one charge, saying it had failed to do a risk assessment despite being aware of an eruption three years earlier.

“It was a reasonably practicable step it should have taken to ensure it met its duty,” said the judge, adding it was a “major failure” that it did not do so.

A second charge of ensuring the safety of those working on the island was dismissed.

The three-month, judge-only trial brought by regulators against 13 groups had already seen six plead guilty and six have charges against them dismissed.

The final remaining defendant in the trial was Whakaari Management Ltd – the holding company for the island’s owners – Andrew, James and Peter Buttle.

Among those to testify in the trial were a newly married couple from Richmond, Virginia, who both survived the eruption.

Lauren Urey, 35, said she and her husband Matt ran for their lives and hid behind rocks after seeing a huge plume rising from the volcano.

“I remember me screaming in agony. My body was sizzling,” Lauren Urey told the court.

“I said: ‘I love you so much. I’m going to die today’.”

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The organisations that had earlier pleaded guilty included three companies that operated helicopter tours, one that operated boat tours and a scenic flight operator.

The parties will be sentenced in February and face a maximum fine of NZ$1.5m (£720,000).

White Island is an active volcano, which lies around 31 miles offshore from the town of Whakatane on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

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