News Australasia

Sunday 26 January 2020

Military specialists recover bodies of six victims of New Zealand volcano eruption

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on at a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on at a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts while addressing the media in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Handout photo supplied by the New Zealand Defence Force showing an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption on Monday New Zealand Defence Force/PA Wire
Handout photo supplied by the New Zealand Defence Force showing an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption on Monday New Zealand Defence Force/PA Wire
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens to questions during a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Handout photo supplied by the New Zealand Defence Force showing an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption on Monday New Zealand Defence Force/PA Wire
Handout photo supplied by the New Zealand Defence Force showing an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption on Monday New Zealand Defence Force/PA Wire
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts during a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses the media in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens to a brief prayer after a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
In this undated photo provided by his family/Knox Grammar School, Berend Hollander poses for a class photo in Sydney, Australia. Hollander died in a hospital from injuries after a volcano erupted near Whakatane, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Family/Knox Grammar School via AP)
In this undated photo provided by his family/Knox Grammar School, Matthew Hollander poses for a class photo in Sydney, Australia. Hollander died in a hospital from injuries after a volcano erupted near Whakatane, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Family/Knox Grammar School via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the family/Knox Grammar School, Martin, right, and Barbara Hollander pose for a photo in Sydney, Australia. The Hollanders are missing and believed to be dead after a volcano erupted near Whakatane, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Family/Knox Grammar School via AP)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, watches as Col. Rian McKinstry addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Colonel Rian McKinstry addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.(New Zealand Defence Force via AP)

Mark Baker and Steve McMorran

New Zealand military specialists wearing protective gear have recovered the bodies of six victims of a volcanic eruption on Monday.

The experts - six men and two women wearing hooded protective suits and using breathing gear - landed on White Island by helicopter on Friday and found six of the eight bodies thought to be there.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference: "We know that reunification won't ease that sense of loss or grief, because I don't think anything can. But we felt an enormous duty of care as New Zealanders to make sure that we brought their family members back."

The families cheered and expressed joy and relief on being told of the successful recovery, Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said. "They've got their loved ones coming home."

This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.(New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.(New Zealand Defence Force via AP)

The bodies were airlifted to a nearby ship, where the risky operation was being monitored.

Toxic volcanic gases are still venting from the crater, and scientists have said another eruption is possible.

This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)

The bodies were to be taken to Auckland for identification. They are thought to be Australians, who were most of the visitors to the island on Monday when the volcano erupted.

Another recovery operation was planned for the last two bodies, thought to be New Zealanders - a tour guide and a boat captain who had taken tourists to the island.

This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police divers were deployed to search the sea around the island and aerial surveillance would be used to try to locate them.

"We do believe that at least one of them is in the water and the other one we are unsure," but the body may be in the sea as well, Mr Bush said at a news briefing.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

"We will continue to search for these people," he added.

Conditions were good for the recovery operation and the volcano was "quiet" as the team worked, Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said.

This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)
This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (New Zealand Defence Force via AP)

Scientists have warned that White Island, which is the exposed tip of a mostly undersea volcano, is "highly volatile" and has been venting steam and mud regularly.

The eruption on Monday happened as 47 tourists and their guides were exploring the island. Many of the survivors were severely burned.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, watches as Col. Rian McKinstry addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, watches as Col. Rian McKinstry addresses a press conference following the recovery operation to return the victims of the Dec. 9 volcano eruption off the coast of Whakatane New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Australia has transported several of its patients to burn units back home, and specialist medical teams were heading to New Zealand from Australia, Britain and the United States. Skin banks were also sending tissue to New Zealand hospitals to use for grafts.

Authorities say 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were on the island at the time. Many were from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that had left Sydney two days earlier.

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