Doctor has double run-in with volcanoes

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012
Sophie Hodgins
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
ATTRACTING ASH: Sophie Hodgins, 25, left, and Helen Armstrong-Brown, 31, are staying a safe distance from dormant Mt Taranaki after being in the thick of Wednesday’s Mt Tongariro eruption.

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A New Plymouth doctor has now been in the thick of not one but two volcanic eruptions and lived to tell the tale.

Taranaki District Health Board paediatric house surgeon Sophie Hodgins, 25, and her partner, cardiac technician Helen Armstrong-Brown, 31, set off on a tramping expedition through the Tongariro National Park on Wednesday.

Little did they know they would later see themselves running for their lives in video footage captured by Fairfax news website Stuff during Wednesday's Mt Tongariro eruption.

"I heard this deep boom and thought a helicopter had crashed, Dr Hodgins said. "Then I looked around and it [smoke and ash) was all going up in the air. I said to Helen ‘take a photo and then run'."

And run they did - like the wind.

"She left me for dead," Dr Hodgins said.

Ms Armstrong-Brown said she initially thought they were in big trouble.

"It just kept going and got bigger and bigger."

It was a sense of deja vu for Dr Hodgins, who experienced her first eruption while climbing highly active volcanic island Ambrym in Vanuatu in 2010.

"We had camped out on the ash plains for the night and at about 1am I heard a roaring noise that seemed to get closer and closer.

"All of a sudden a wave of water hit the tent. I was able to get out but my mate was a bit slow and she got a bit trapped."

Dr Hodgins said the water was mixed with ash, and was very warm and heavy.

"We thought we were going to die the whole night."

Despite that, they continued to climb the volcano the next day - her friend in nothing but the underwear she had been wearing when their belongings were swept away in the eruption.

"I think I'm just accident-prone. I seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Dr Hodgins said.

Originally from Wairarapa, Dr Hodgins said she had a new-found respect for volcanoes and their unpredictability.

She had also taken on board suggestions from those who were planning to climb Mt Taranaki this summer and knew about her unlucky run.

"Everyone is saying ‘don't climb Mt Taranaki', so I'm staying away from it now."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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