Premiered Whakaari eruption doco fails to mention charges, victims' lawsuits

12:40 pm on 9 December 2022
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Whakaari / White Island erupted in 2019. Photo: Supplied/ University of Canterbury

A version of the Netflix documentary The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari that premiered last month does not mention WorkSafe charges laid against companies after the deadly eruption, or lawsuits led by some victims.

But it does interview some of those accused of safety failings leading up to the tragedy, and those who filed lawsuits.

The explosion on volcano Whakaari / White Island three years ago today ultimately took 22 lives, and left more than a dozen others critically injured with burns and blast injuries.

Forty-seven people were on the island at the time, most with White Island Tours.

Eleven parties charged with health and safety law breaches leading up to the eruption are expected to go to trial in July next year, for four months, after pleading not guilty.

This includes the helicopter operators Volcanic Air and Kāhu NZ, which were interviewed in the Netflix documentary, the island's owners the Buttles and White Island Tours.

Asked about the omission of mention of court action in the documentary premiered to a select audience last month, WorkSafe said it "acknowledges and respects the editorial independence of filmmakers".

"WorkSafe hasn't been shown the documentary… WorkSafe remembers all people impacted by the event, including the survivors and families of the deceased, on the third anniversary."

Pilots from Volcanic Air and Kāhu NZ have since received bravery awards for going to the island after the eruption to rescue survivors, when emergency services had deemed it too dangerous to send their own staff.

Whakaari White Island eruption as seen from tourist boat

Twenty-two people lost their lives in the eruption. Photo: Supplied / Lillani Hopkins

The documentary was directed by Rory Kennedy, and Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the producers.

Representatives from the production team did not respond to RNZ's request for comment.

The final edited production is playing in some cinemas from Friday, and on Netflix from 16 December.

The documentary also features interviews with US survivors Matt and Lauren Urey, who filed lawsuits against the cruise operator Royal Caribbean after the eruption, but this legal action also is not mentioned in the film.

The premiered version concluded by saying: "No party or individual has accepted responsibility for the injuries sustained and lives lost. The island remains closed to all visitors."

Thirteen parties were charged with health and safety law breaches after the tragedy. A charge against the National Emergency Management Agency has since been dismissed, as has one of two charges against GNS Science.

Tour company Inflite pleaded guilty, admitting it failed to undertake an adequate risk assessment, or implement appropriate controls to ensure the health and safety of tourists.

They flew to the island on the day of the eruption, in the morning, with Kāhu NZ.

Inflite was ordered to pay more than $250,000.

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