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

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo’s NRGH

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All seniors in long-term care on the Island will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
UPDATE: Snowfall warning issued for Nanaimo area, up to 5 cm forecast

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
New positive COVID-19 case at Nanaimo care home, where outbreak was declared

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence employee is isolating, says Island Health

Emergency crews were called to a semi-truck crash along the Trans-Canada Highway at Oyster Sto’Lo Road on Friday, Jan. 22. (Cole Schisler/Black Press)
Semi truck crashes off the side of the highway in Ladysmith

Driver taken to hospital as precaution after single-vehicle crash Friday

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Most Read