Terrifying images taken by a tourist show the Bay of Plenty volcano on New Zealand's White Island spewing a huge cloud of thick, grey smoke minutes after it erupted.
Michael Schade, from San Francisco, was on the island but managed to leave minutes before a huge explosion from the volcano sent plumes of smoke and debris more than 3,000 metres into the sky.
He, along with a boatload of tourists, had been standing at the crater about 20 minutes earlier and watched in horror when they realised what was happening.
“It was hard to tell at first, because we’d seen the smoke before, but this was a huge cloud of it,” he said.
“We were taking photos and videos and then it dawned on us what had happened.”
Tourists were pictured deep inside the crater just moments before the blast while others heading on a boat to the island were rushed back inside as ash and smoke billowed towards them.
Police have said that they believe there are no survivors left on the island after reconnaissance flights showed “no signs of life had been seen at any point”.
Up to 50 tourists were believed to be on the island when the volcano erupted on Monday afternoon at around 2.30pm local time.
Five people have been confirmed killed, a figure that is expected to rise. A number of people have been taken to hospital, some with burns.
Twenty-three people have been rescued; up to 50 were believed to be on the island. It is feared that at least three British nationals are among the missing.
A British grandmother who was reported missing by family members following the eruption is safe, according to The Times.
Sylvia Rudland-Wood, 80, was confirmed alive by her granddaughter Amba Bottrell.
The three Britons are among those listed as missing by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Schade posted video of the eruption on Twitter, saying: “My god. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”
His video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash.
He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.
The site on White Island was still too dangerous hours later for police and rescuers to search for the missing.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Although police cannot confirm the exact figure, it's thought that the number of those who are missing is in double figures.
One of the victims was named as Hayden Marshall-Inman, an experienced tour guide who was described as young and energetic with the “kindest heart”.
His brother Mark Inman confirmed the news to friends and family on Facebook, saying Hayden passed away “doing the one thing he loved”.
Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those who were dead, missing or injured.
He said most of the 18 who survived were injured and some had suffered severe burns.
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said they are seeking “further information” from authorities.
He said: “We are in close contact with the New Zealand authorities following the volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island and are seeking further information.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was travelling to the region late on Monday.
She said the incident was “very significant”, adding: “All our thoughts are with those affected.”
White Island, also called Whakaari, is the country's most active volcano.