Three White Island survivors held their breath underwater for two minutes in a move that saved their lives as a toxic cloud of ash hovered above them.

Helicopter pilot Brian Depauw landed his aircraft with a group of German tourists on the volcanic island off the coast of New Zealand shortly before it erupted on December 9 last year.

The group had to flee by boat as their chopper’s rotors were destroyed when it was thrown from its launch pad amid the explosion.

When he discovered the helicopter won’t be able to fly, Mr Depauw saw plumes of ash coming towards the group and yelled “jump into the water!”

He jumped into the sea with two of his clients – tourists from Germany – and took in a gasp of air before plunging below the surface.

“This is it,” he thought, as reported by US publication Outside.

“There’s no surviving this.”

Depauw witnessed a dark cloud roll over the water’s surface before everything went black.

After two minutes, his lungs were in pain.

Once the trio saw light, they emerged through the darkness to get some air.

The water around them had a thick layer of yellow dust that smelled strongly of sulfur.

They then swam to the jetty where tourists with blackened limbs began to gather.

The two who followed Depauw into the water came out unscathed, but the others weren’t so lucky as they experienced horrific burns.

There were 47 people on the island when the volcano erupted. 21  people died.

This article originally appeared on Over60.