A teenage tour guide who suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body in the White Island volcano eruption has opened up about his painful recovery in the six months since the tragedy.
Jake Milbank was celebrating his 19th birthday on December 9, 2019, and the following day would have been his one year anniversary working as a tour guide at the popular New Zealand destination.
But at 2.11pm, the volcano erupted, killing 21 of the 47 people on the island at the time and leaving dozens more critically injured.
Speaking to Newshub, Mr Milbank described the fight-or-flight response after the volcano exploded and the harrowing 90-minute trip back to mainland after being loaded onto a tour boat with horrific injuries.
“You know what you’ve gotta do to survive and that’s all I was really thinking about doing at the time,” he said. “(I was) just trying to stay awake, and constantly reminding myself and having others around me reminding me that we were nearly back and it was all gonna be all good.”
Mr Milbank was in hospital for four months, two weeks of which he spent in a coma. He underwent 25 separate surgeries to repair his skin, with his family praising the incredible work of a team of world-class medical staff, including one surgeon who travelled from Australia.
“It’s definitely been a challenge, but I mean, all it’s really gonna do is build character,” he told Newshub. “There’s nothing I can do about it except try my hardest to get back to where I was before the eruption, there’s no point at looking at it negatively.”
Mr Milbank is now undergoing intensive rehabilitation to regain basic movements, but hopes to soon get back to fishing and hunting with his mates. “Every day you notice, ‘Oh I can take my sock off a little bit further’ or something like that, it is pretty cool to see,” he said.
From his home in Whakatane he can stand on the beach and look at White Island on the horizon – and despite everything, he would like to go back. “It does send shivers down the spine a little bit, gives you the goosebumps,” he said. “I wouldn’t get too close, but yeah I definitely would like to go and have another look.”