3 New Zealand tour operators plead guilty to safety breaches in deadly eruption of volcano
July 10, 2023 By The Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three helicopter tour operators pleaded guilty on Friday to safety breaches when New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted in 2019, claiming 22 lives.
Volcanic Air Safaris Ltd., Kahu NZ Ltd. and Aerius Ltd. were to go on trial in Auckland District Court next week along with six other entities and people following the tragedy at the island, which had been a popular tourist attraction.
There were 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 who were not killed 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.
The three helicopter operators admitted that they had failed to ensure the health and safety of staff and tourists.
Many of those killed and injured were 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 judge-only trial is scheduled to start Monday and take 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 three operators that pleaded guilty will now appear in court in August.