Sourced from NZHerald.co.nz
- Police dive team will resume their search today for the last two bodies at White Island
- It is believed both bodies may be in the water after a fruitless land search yesterday
- Last Monday’s devastating eruption has so far claimed 16 victims, two more people died in hospital at the weekend.
- Nation to observe a minute’s silence at 2.11pm today
The police dive team will today resume their search for the last two bodies at White Island after a fruitless search by land and sea yesterday.
The number of people who have died as a result of last Monday’s devastating eruption is now 16 after two more victims died in hospital at the weekend.
The search for the two missing bodies will continue on Monday and is likely to focus on the water.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement told Newstalk ZB that yesterday’s search of the island had helped them rule out that the second body could remain on Whakaari.
Police now assumed both bodies had been washed down a stream and into the ocean.
Efforts to retrieve the last two bodies remaining on Whakaari/White Island are expected to continue today, after six bodies were recovered from the volcano yesterday.
The risky work to return the dead to their loved ones began at first light yesterday, almost four days after the eruption which took the lives of 16 people and injured 30, most critically.
Eight Defence Force members wearing full protective clothing, including closed-circuit breathing apparatus to guard against the toxic gases, landed on White Island, where they retrieved six of the eight bodies left behind after Monday’s deadly eruption.
The bodies were then flown to the Navy ship HMNZS Wellington, which was anchored off the island, then airlifted to Whakatane Airport.
There, families had time to sit among their loved ones’ coffins – despite not knowing which was their particular family member, deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis said.
There was a sense of calmness, peace and overriding grief during that time, Davis said.
“It was just an opportunity – as they said – regardless of whether we’re from Australia or New Zealand or wherever, at that moment we’re one whanau and we’ll mourn everybody as if they are our own.”
Last night the bodies were flown by helicopter to Whenuapai airbase, where they were met by the solemn sight of a row of hearses lined up on the tarmac. The bodies were taken to Auckland Hospital, where post mortems are taking place.
The six bodies were now being taken to Auckland, Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said.
Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims:
Six bodies have been prepared for air lifting off Whakaari / White Island and the process to transport them to HMNZS Wellington by helicopter has begun.
The recovery team is in the area where we believe the majority of the bodies are.
The operation is taking more time than expected, this is due to the protective equipment the recovery team is wearing which can be restrictive and heavy but is necessary.
Conditions for the operation are good in regard to the weather, sea state and the environment on the island.
Recovery team lands on White Island
Statement attributable to Deputy Commissioner John Tims, National Operations Commander
The recovery team undertaking the operation to remove bodies on Whakaari / White Island have landed on the island.
NZ Defence Force helicopters and naval vessels are in Whakatane, recovery operation currently underway. More to come.
The risk of a further eruption on White Island stands at 40-60 per cent and police insist it remains too dangerous to collect the eight bodies on the volcano.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement has defended the cautious decision to further delay the retrieval operation – he says officers are determined to return the victims to loved ones but not at the expense of rescuers’ safety.
Clement said police may consider seeking consent from the victims’ next of kin about whether they would be happy for recovery teams to go in to quickly recover the bodies, even if this meant losing evidence required to formally identify each person.
GNS says the threat of another eruption in the next 24 hours is 40-60 per cent.
Police will meet with local tour operators this afternoon to re-assess the current risks posed to the recovery team.
“Two further fatalities – Whakaari / White Island eruption”
Two further people have died following the eruption on Whakaari / White Island, bringing the official toll to eight.
One was being treated at Middlemore Hospital and one at Waikato Hospital.
Police remain focused on supporting families at this terrible time.
By Māni Dunlop for RNZ
Details about the Whakaari/White Island recovery process have been released by police, with Ngāti Awa front and centre of the operation.
The recovery of the eight unaccounted for will commence once police have the go-ahead from GNS that it is safe enough to go on the island.
In Whakatāne today, Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said while police will make a decision regarding the timing of recovery efforts, Ngāti Awa will lead the process itself.
“Ngāti Awa are front and centre of this operation so for the uplifting of the deceased, once that decision is made, Ngāti Awa will be going across to Whakaari/White Island on HMNZS Wellington.”
A tohunga (expert) from Ngāti Awa, as well as a support person, will carry out the karakia, blessings and the upliftings of the tūpāpaku (deceased) in the most appropriate way, he said.
Once the tūpāpaku are back on the whenua, they will be placed in containers and taken to Auckland Hospital.
“Ngāti Awa will conduct the karakia and blessings before they depart the rohe of Ngāti Awa,” Haumaha said.
Decisions made regarding Ngāti Awa whānau will be left up to the iwi, he said.
“We absolutely know people are anxious to get their loved ones back and I understand that completely. We are working with all agencies around the table to try and expedite the process but safety is the primary factor.”
With an increase in activity on Whakaari today, GNS will continue to monitor the situation and all of the risk-factors will be taken into consideration, he said.
Autopsies and formal identification for the six Whakaari/White Island eruption victims will begin today as police try to identify the dead and injured.
Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said police were trying to return bodies to grieving families but identification was a complex process.
“The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter,” he said.
“We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible, to return those who have died to their loved ones.”
It is understood part of that process will include police gathering DNA from the cabins of missing passengers on the Ovation of the Seas, which was held at Tauranga overnight. The cruise ship was expected to leave at 6.45am today.
Six of the 47 people on the island were confirmed dead and 30 injured after Monday’s eruption sent an ash plume 4000m into the air, visible from as far away as 50km.
Eight others remain on the island and are presumed dead but a recovery operation will not begin until it is deemed safe for teams to go there.
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10/12/2019 17:45PM FINAL UPDATE:
“They…spent some time in a safe area, they tried to do an assessment and see if they could find anybody else,” Clark said.
“If there were any people that we could bring off then we would formulate a plan, we were in direct comms with them. We basically stayed in the parameters of the island within a safe distance, and we could then go and extract them if we needed to.”
The pair were on the island for between 30 and 40 minutes, he estimated, but by the end of that time it was clear that “everybody that could come off was already off the island.”
GNS Science raised the alert level on Whakaari to level two on November 18 because of increasing volcanic unrest.
Paul Quinn, the chair of Ngati Awa Holdings, says that alert level is within its operating guidelines and the company would be in closer contact with GNS Science if it hit level 3.
He says White Island Tours has previously taken visitors to Whakaari when the volcano had been at a level two alert level.
Quinn says it’s too early to say whether the operating guidelines need to be changed and the company’s focus is on supporting its staff.
COMMENT FROM ST JOHN AT THE SCENE –
Work has continued overnight to respond to the eruption on White Island.
Enquiries with tour operators indicate that 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption.
Police can now advise that in addition to the five people confirmed deceased, eight people remain unaccounted for following the eruption.
Casualties have been moved to hospitals around the country for specialist care.
Thirty-one patients are currently being treated at seven hospitals.
Three patients have been treated and discharged from Whakatane Hospital.
Rescue helicopters, the Police Eagle helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption, and further reconnaissance flights will be undertaken this morning.
Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are involved, including 37 passengers and one crew member from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.
The family and loved ones of those involved are front of mind for Police.
The latest update from police, issued just after midnight, is that there is no expectation anyone who was left behind on the island is still alive. Drone will be sent up early today to check the island.
“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation,” a statement said.
“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.”
Police said they were working urgently to confirm exactly how many more people have died – further to the five confirmed early yesterday.
Shortly after the eruption, a total of 23 people were rescued from the island – several of whom had suffered serious or severe burns.
Among those are the five people confirmed dead.
National Operation Commander Deputy Commissioner John Tims told a press conference on Monday afternoon a number of people had burns.
He said further eruptions were possible.
Those dead are of a “range of nationalities”, he said.
“The experts that we’ve spoken to have said it is unsafe for us to go on that island. The island is unstable … the physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island. It is important that we consider the health and safety of those that will return to the island.”
Tims told an earlier press conference on Monday: “At this stage it is too dangerous for police and rescue to go on to the island … the island is currently covered in ash and volcanic material.”
“We know the urgency to get back to [the] island.”
GNS is assessing the situation at the moment and is unsure if cameras on the island are still functioning.
Dr Ken Gledhill, from GNS, said: “It’s not a particularly big eruption, almost like a throat-clearing eruption, and that’s probably why material won’t make it to the mainland”.
Smoke from the eruption went around 12,000m in the air, he said.
He said it has quietened down, but added he could not be certain there would not be another eruption in the next 24 hours.
For up to the minute updates, visit NZHerald.co.nz