12 Dec 2019

Australian families hit out at communication failures

1:53 pm on 12 December 2019

Victims' families have been criticising authorities for a lack of communication over the eruption with Australian relatives frustrated they are relying on media reports for information.

Jason Giffiths, left, and couple Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer.

From left, Jason Griffiths, Karla Matthews and Rick Elzar all from Coffs Harbour are among the casualties from the eruption of Whakaari / White Island. Photo: Supplied/ DFAT

Mark Reddie, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, told Morning Report the main frustration came from the father of Rick Elzar, who was on White Island with girlfriend Karla Matthews.

High school sweethearts Elzer and Matthews had boarded the Ovation of the Seas cruise liner in Sydney last week with a group of their friends.

After Peter Elzar complained to the ABC about how authorities were treating them, a few hours later it was confirmed that both his son and Matthews had died in the tragedy.

Elzar told the ABC earlier yesterday that he was angry the only information from authorities was coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs but mainly from media.

"He was learning just how dangerous this volcano was through reports in the media ...

"He says his son had no had no idea this volcano was active for 150,000 years. He was very angry that he was constantly learning new information just through watching the Australian news."

Elzar was also angered by a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs earlier in the day confirming the death of Jason Griffiths, who had been with Matthews and Elzar's son on the island - yet there was no confirmation of their fate and the wording had caused a lot of upset for relatives.

He said families back in Australia had to rely on Griffiths' friends at his hospital bedside for information on what was happening with those who were missing.

"We would like to call for a change to the way DFAT corresponds with immediate family members in crises like these," Elzar told the ABC.

"To be reliant on media reports for information shows a real lack of consideration for the welfare of the families of the deceased."

Reddie told RNZ that although some relatives were frustrated, most Australians understood the tragedy was in its early stages and the focus was on establishing where missing Australians are and who the victims are.

"The focus isn't really about criticism at the moment; it really is about trying to get that information and trying to appease the concerns of loved ones of potential victims."

Read more on the Whakaari/White Island eruption:

The father of Gavin Dallow, who is among those missing on White Island, told media in Australia he didn't think his son was fully informed of the dangers about going to the island.

Brian Dallow said if his son had been advised about a potential risk "he wouldn't have gone".

"I'm pretty well sure they weren't fully informed of the dangers, otherwise he wouldn't have gone," he said.

Gavin and Lisa Dallow on their wedding day in 2017.

Gavin and Lisa Dallow on their wedding day two years ago - Mrs Dallow is receiving treatment for her injuries. Photo: Facebook / Rotary Adelaide