When Lillani Hopkins first saw them she froze.
People standing on the shoreline covered in ash, others madly swimming in the water.
Just minutes earlier the volcano on New Zealand's White Island had erupted, engulfing the entire island in a thick coating of grey ash.
Lillani Hopkins, 22, and her father, Geoff, on Whakaari/White Island minutes before it erupted.
"It looked like a bomb had gone off. There was a crippled helicopter that had been knocked off the pad. The propellers had been all bent and broken," Ms Hopkins said on Tuesday.
"All I could think was, if it can do that to metal, what can it do to human skin?"
The 23-year-old geography student had been on the popular volcanic island for the trip of a lifetime with her dad, Geoff.
Geoff Hopkins and his daughter Lillani.
"That morning we had spent about an hour-and-a-half on the island on a guided tour. So we finished on the island just after 2pm [then] we used a rubber dinghy to get back to the main boat," she said.
"We were maybe on the boat a couple of minutes, we moved around the corner for a last look at the crater from a different bay and that's when we saw it erupt."
The tour boat quickly turned back towards the island and its passengers were told to stay inside the boat, while the tour boat operators headed back to the island in the dinghy to collect as many survivors as they could.
Ms Hopkins and her father did not hesitate when the operators returned calling for anyone with first aid qualifications.
"I honestly thought it would be eye washes, cleaning up from the ash … So when I first saw people and the state they were in, I froze. And then I realised they just kept bringing more and more people," she said.
It looked like a bomb had gone off … if it can do that to metal, what can it do to human skin?
"I went into fight mode, probably for two hours fighting to keep these people alive, pour cold water on their burns, keep them conscious, dress head wounds."
While some could speak, others "couldn't do anything but scream in pain".
"Some couldn't speak any English at all and some were unconscious," she said.
Mostly, she said, they were "petrified".
Lillani Hopkins and Geoff Hopkins.Credit:Stuff
Ms Hopkins said she and her father were cutting the clothes off people with the worst burns, many of whom were only wearing singlets, jeans and sneakers.
She recalled the severe blisters and third-degree burns she witnessed.
The journey back to the mainland from White Island took around 75 minutes, broken only when a coast guard boat met the tour vessel halfway with paramedics on board.
"They were loaded with pain medication for the survivors, but the patients were so burnt they had no veins in their arms," she said.
White Island moments after the blast.Credit:Lillani Hopkins
On the mainland, she said the boat was met by "police, firemen, ambulance, coast guard, helicopters". "Everyone was there waiting," she said.
Throughout her studies Ms Hopkins has always joked about how lucky she would be to see a volcano erupt.
"I've studied volcanoes the last five years and moved to New Zealand from the UK three years ago … going to White Island has been a dream."
But now, she says, "that's something no one should ever have to see".
"I was looking at being a volcanologist … but honestly, I don't think I could ever go back. Five minutes earlier it could have been me."
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