Jake Milbank suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body in the Whakaari/White Island eruption. Picture: Supplied
Jake Milbank suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body in the Whakaari/White Island eruption. Picture: Supplied

NZ volcano survivor’s stunning recovery

The teenage tour guide who suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body in the Whakaari/White Island eruption has shared a dramatic photo of his first taste of fresh air in nearly three months.

The Bay of Plenty volcano erupted beneath Jake Milbank and members of his party on December 9, his 19th birthday.

The eruption killed 21 people - including fellow tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman and teenage Australian tourist Winona Langford, whose bodies were not found.


Mr Milbank has needed 23 trips to surgery at Middlemore Hospital, where he has been since the tragedy. A Givealittle page set up to help his family financially is now topping $145,000.

Via a social media account, the teen shared a heartwarming photo and description of the first time in three months he had been outside on March 1, when he got to see his dog.

"The first thing on my list was to go and see this little cutie who hasn't seen me in a whopping 1.8 dog years.

"Such an awesome feeling to be back out in the real world breathing in some fresh air."

He also recounted the moment in an update to his Givealittle page on March 11.

"I was able to see my dog for the first time in almost three months which was such an amazing feeling, and it was also my Aunty's birthday so I got to spend the afternoon with my family to celebrate."

He said the last 94 days had been "the most challenging days of my life".

"But each and every one of them I have been getting stronger and stronger.

"To date I have had 23 trips to theatre, and more recently my nurses have began doing my dressing changes on the ward and as of last week I have started to have my dressings changed in my own room in the burns unit."

He said now his skin was fully grafted his physio sessions had been getting "more and more intense as my skin grafts heal".

"From walking on the treadmill to pumping iron (a 1kg weight in each hand) we are seeing improvements every day.

"I am finally beginning to gain weight and have put on 3kg in the last three weeks."

Milbank was working for White Island Tours as a guide when the tragedy happened.

He offered a "huge thank you" to everyone who had supported him.

"I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point. I couldn't have done it without you all."

In particular he thanked his family, friends and colleagues for the immense efforts visiting and keeping him company while he has been in hospital.

"My friends have been so awesome driving almost an eight-hour round trip from Whakatāne to see me nearly every weekend and I have also had quite a few visits from my colleagues at White Island Tours which has been great.


"Words can't even express how amazing my family have been. They have been so supportive, keeping me company and bringing me home-cooked meals. I can't thank them enough.

"I am looking forward to spending more time out of the hospital and eventually being home with my friends and family but at this stage we are not quite sure when that might be, meaning that for now my main focus is getting in the gym with my rehab team.

"I am looking forward to sharing some more good news regarding my recovery with you all in the future."

In the comments on his social media post, many described the teenager as "an inspiration".

"Jake, you are my inspiration every day," said one person.

"Kia kaha, we're all behind you, you got this," said another.

Mr Milbank was initially taken off Whakaari on a White Island Tours boat, which was skippered by Paul Kingi.

Kingi's boat had departed Whakaari before the sudden eruption, but he bravely returned to help the gravely injured.

Fellow survivor and tour guide Kelsey Waghorn also shared an update into her recovery this month after she suffered full thickness burns to 45 per cent of her body in the eruption.

She spent 10 days in ICU, five of those in an induced coma after the island spewed ash, steam and toxic gas.

"It has been the hardest three months of my life, but I have learnt how stubborn, strong and willing my mind and body are," she wrote.

Kelsey Waghorn was guiding a group when the volcano erupted. Picture: Supplied
Kelsey Waghorn was guiding a group when the volcano erupted. Picture: Supplied

"Of course, there have been many moments where neither were any of the above, but they have been moments. Not days. Not weeks. For that, I am grateful."

Ms Waghorn also paid tribute to her friend and colleague Hayden-Marshall Inman, one of the 21 people killed in the eruption.

"Today marks three months since I lost a good friend, colleague, and many others lost their loved ones. This will stay with me forever."

As of March 4, three patients remained in care at Middlemore Hospital, one of whom was critical.

Thirteen patients have been transferred to Australia and six to other home countries.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission