Survivors of New Zealand’s deadly volcano eruption will testify at a trial of tourism operators

 WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A U.S. honeymoon couple who survived severe burns when New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted in 2019 are listed as the first witnesses to testify in a trial of tourism industry operators over the disaster that claimed 22 lives. Prosecutors open their case in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday 

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A U.S. honeymoon couple who survived severe burns when New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted in 2019 are listed as the first witnesses to testify in a trial of tourism industry operators over the disaster that claimed 22 lives.

Prosecutors open their case in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday on health and safety charges against six companies and directors in the Dec. 9, 2019, volcanic eruption at the popular tourist attraction.

Matt Urey and his wife, Lauren Barham, from Richmond, Virginia, were listed on Monday as the first witnesses to testify.

British helicopter pilot Brian de Pauw and Australian tourist Annie Lu are also high on the witness list.

The American couple were among 47 people on White Island, the tip of an undersea volcano also known by its Indigenous Maori name Whakaari, when superheated steam erupted, leaving most of the 25 survivors with severe burns.

Many people question why tourists were allowed to visit the island after experts monitoring seismic activity raised the volcano’s alert level two weeks before the eruption.

Urey and Barham were among tourists who had been traveling from Australia aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

Of those killed, 14 were Australian, five were American, two were New Zealanders and one was from Germany.

The island’s owners, Andrew, James and Peter Buttle, directors of Whakaaari Management Ltd., are among those charged.

Three helicopter tour operators pleaded guilty last week to safety breaches and avoided the judge-only trial, which is scheduled to last 16 weeks.

Each of the organizations faces a maximum fine of 1.5 million New Zealand dollars ($927,000). Each individual charged faces a maximum fine of NZ$300,000 ($185,000).

The Associated Press

 

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