A Whakatane fisherman has been hailed for his bravery in helping tourists escape the fatal explosion on White Island.
Paul Kingi was a skipper on the White Island Tours boat, working alongside his friend Hayden Marshall-Inman, who died in the explosion.
Details emerged of how Kingi put his own life in danger to save others.
Pursuit Fishing Charters owner Rick Pollock said Kingi was his deckhand for five years in the late 1990s and they had remained close. “And he’s the guy if you were ever in a bother, he’s the one you’d want on your shoulder.
“I was shipwrecked with him on an uninhabited island in the Cook Islands for five days so I can tell you from experience that he’s most definitely the guy that could do the job and did do the job properly,” Pollock added.
Kingi has been a regular in fishing in the Cook Islands – though locals suggest Pollock’s account of a “shipwreck” was a bit of a fisherman’s tale.
John Baxter, of Aitutaki, was also on the Manaue trip and knows Kingi as an experienced fisherman – they went out gamefishing in New Zealand and off Aitutaki.
“We invited Paul to visit us in Aitutaki, which he did,” he recalled. “He joined us on a fishing trip to Manuae, we had a great time fishing.”
Baxter was not surprised Kingi returned to help survivors on White Island: “He’s that kind of guy”.
Pollock said Kingi was experienced on the water, a skilled and enthusiastic fisherman. “Yesterday this all came to fruition yet again but under the most dire of circumstances.
“As with most disasters there will be people who step up, heroes and heroines if you will.”
Kingi had left the island “only minutes before the eruption”, Pollock said.
When it happened he was “the first back on, rescuing and assisting numerous injured back onto the waiting boats”.
“He went back again and again, ignoring the toxic environment and personal risk, until he was satisfied there were no more obvious survivors remaining,” Pollock explained.
“This superhuman effort doesn’t surprise me in the least as I’ve seen this fine man in action on numerous occasions, always controlling a bad situation.
“I’d like to recognise Paul for what he is on this occasion, nothing less than a hero.”
Pollock, who has been in the industry for more than 40 years said the incident had left him “personally devastated”.
But it hurt even more because their friend Hayden Marshall-Inman had died.
“I’ve known this young man since he was three years old, tagging along with his older brother Mark when playing with my son Kydd in our Ohope Beach home,” he said.
“This friendship just grew in time with the three boys becoming brothers in everything but heritage.
“As Hayden grew into manhood his kind disposition led him to a life of serving people. Eventually this revolved into entering the Ecotourism employment offered right on his doorstep with White Island Tours.
“Working his way up the ranks Hayden eventually attained his coveted skipper’s license and began running the boats under the supervision of his mentor and friend,
“While I’m finding it most difficult to come to terms with all this horrible revelation, I can’t imagine what his family is going through.
“My heart and thoughts go out to them in this most difficult of times.”