White Island volcano survivor removes compression mask for first time

A woman wearing an orange full-face mask -- known as a compression mask -- reaches out with her two reddish-pink hands to take it off.

Stephanie Bowitt gave the interview 60 Minutes after 30 months of intensive treatment for third degree burns (Image: 60 Minutes)

A woman who suffered third-degree burns on 70% of her body after a volcano erupted in New Zealand has revealed her face for the first time in two and a half years.

Stephanie Browitt, 26, of Melbourne, was in a coma for two weeks after the White Island explosion in December 2019.

The natural disaster claimed the lives of 22 people, including her father, Paul, and her 21-year-old sister, Krystal.

Stephanie took off her compression mask 60 minutes after 30 months of treatment and said she went through “a lot more than I ever expected in life”.

“I’m tougher than I ever thought I would be,” she added.

“I think I’ve learned that the struggle to survive is a real thing. I struggled to survive every day just to find myself again. I never knew I had that in me.’

A total of 47 people were on the island when the volcano erupted, and Stephanie, Paul, and Krystal were walking away from the crater as black smoke billowed from its center.

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Stephanie said, “Just a few seconds later we heard the front guide yell ‘run’ and that’s when we realized it and decided in a split second to just run away.

“It was coming from behind and getting louder and louder as it got closer and you could hear all the rocks. You could hear the sound of all the rocks hitting the ground and people just screamed.

“I didn’t think I was going to survive… I thought I was going to die.”

Krystal’s body was later recovered by salvage teams while father Paul died from his injuries.

A plume of ash rising into the air as the volcano on White Island erupts.

The White Island volcano erupted in December 2019, killing 22 people (Image: AFP)

A square graphic photograph of a woman's back with peeled skin and severe burns. Her hair has been burned off while the skin on her back is red and sore.

The Melbourne resident spent two weeks in a coma due to the extent of her injuries (Image: 60 Minutes)

A white woman with long blond hair gives an interview to someone behind the camera.

Stephanie has now become a burns advocate, saying: “No one should be ashamed of their scars” (Image: 60 Minutes)

A white woman with long blond hair puts her right hand to her face. We see three fingers amputated below the joint, with reddish-pink skin from burns.

Stephanie had to have fingers amputated after the incident (Image: 60 mins)

As part of the 60 Minutes program, Stephanie shared vivid images of her burns following the tragedy, which saw layers of skin removed from her head, back, arms, legs and torso.

She required multiple skin grafts and had fingers amputated.

Stephanie has since shared updates about her recovery with millions of followers on social media, with fans “sharing their own stories of their struggles.”

“If I can just change one person’s life, that means everything to me,” she said.

“No one should be ashamed of their scars, they represent their struggle.

“I hope that I can continue to learn to be comfortable in my own skin because everyone should be comfortable in their own skin no matter what.”

Stephanie and her mother Marie are currently suing cruise operator Royal Caribbean over the physical and emotional distress they endured during their experience with the company.

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Justin Scacco

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