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Tourist Cheats Death On NZ Volcano By 10 Minutes

An American tourist who was having the time of his life with his family as they explored New Zealand’s White Island, has spoken of how he tried to help some of the severely burnt victims as chaos unfolded around him.

David Schade cheated death then looked it in the eye … again and again.

The San Franciscan tourist was at the crater’s edge of the White Island volcano less than half an hour before it blew.

Capturing amazing memories with his wife and youngest son Michael, who had shouted his parents to the trip.

Before their day was over, the harrowing images Michael would soon be capturing would wind up on the front page of news services around the world.

“Everyone there was a person, everyone there, they were kind, they were happy, they were there for a reason - enjoying it," he said.

“Life changed within a second. It wasn’t for the best and it affected every one of us and it’s going to affect us all for a long time.

I’ve cried ever since I got off the boat.

The Schade family had considered staying longer on the volcano to take more photos, but 10 minutes after leaving on their tourist boat, David said he saw something strange.

“I was noticing a bunch of fish jump off the island,” he said.

An image provided by US tourist Michael Schade, taken as the volcano erupted. Image: Supplied

He pointed it out to the boat crew who thought it was white caps off the waves, but David disagreed, telling them:

“I think there are actually fish jumping out of the water, and after that, we heard screams like holy cow, we saw a puff of smoke up through the crater.

“Everyone was taking out phones, they didn’t realise what was going on, thought it was a small eruption, then next thing you know it was getting larger and larger, the whole island was engulfed.”

Michael Schade. Image: Facebook

Thirty hours after the disaster, his hands shake visibly recounting the next harrowing few moments.

With stricken tourists standing on a boat ramp, their vessel went back into the abyss to rescue them, the crew first asking those on board to go inside as they approached the searing steam and ash cloud.

“When they were bringing them on, this is when we heard the screams,” David said, his eyes welling up and his jaw trembling.

“We had to go out there to help. We walked out there, they were head to toe in ash, they were burned head to toe, some in extremely bad shape.”

The whole crew helped, taking clothes off and giving water.

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It was about another hour’s boat ride, during which time everyone pitched in, giving water, holding onto victims, who were fighting for life.

“There was a woman named Alice … she was in extremely bad shape, my wife just held her the whole way. I was helping one of the younger workers, she was in extreme pain.”

At one stage David said he remembered lying down on the ground next to another severely burnt man – offering him gentle words of comfort and reassurance that they were there with him.

He talks about the fear he saw in the injured people’s eyes, how he made eye contact and held it, bringing them some sense of solace.

And he stressed it wasn’t just him. Everybody was calm. Our tour guide, whose name was Paul, was phenomenal taking charge.”

Image: AAP/ Micheal Schade.

After going back to save others, David said he was not sure what happened to Paul, whether he made it out alive.

“We learned that five of those people passed that were on the boat.”

David was full of praise for the tour operators, saying they explained many safety procedures, and put tourist safety at the highest level, both before and after the disaster.

“We had hard hats, we had life jackets, we had gas masks we had everything provided to us for safety,” David said.

But they had all started commenting on strange tweaks of nature.

“We noticed the bees seemed to be swarming, my wife was stung, and the algae was gone,” he said.

One of the tour guides commented the algae had been there the day before but strangely seemed to have died overnight.

Others sensed something was up too.

“They did have experts out there checking with drones, but no people were there. They knew there was some activity, they knew something was in the works, they just didn’t know what.”

“It’s a bittersweet situation. I feel guilty I couldn’t help more.”