/Divers search for two bodies near NZ volcano

Divers search for two bodies near NZ volcano

The recovery operation at Whakaari/White Island on 13 DecemberImage copyright
New Zealand Defence Force/Getty Images

Image caption

Six bodies were retrieved from the island on Friday

New Zealand police say divers have resumed searching the waters near White Island volcano in efforts to retrieve two remaining bodies.

At least one body was spotted in the water and rescuers would not return to the island on Saturday.

A day earlier, the remains of six bodies were recovered in a high-risk operation and sent to Auckland where they will be identified.

Fourteen deaths have been confirmed from Monday’s eruption.

Around 20 people remain in intensive care with severe burns in New Zealand and Australia.

In a statement, police said they would analyse all information available and assess possible next steps. “[Saturday’s] planning will allow us to return to the island to conduct further land-based searches for the remaining deceased, as the environment on and around the island allows.”

After being recovered from White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, the bodies will be examined in Auckland by experts including a pathologist, a forensic dentist and a fingerprint officer.

Police will gather information about possible victims, such as descriptions of appearance, clothing, photos, fingerprints, medical and dental records and DNA samples. These details will then be matched to the evidence gathered in the post-mortem examination.

“This is a long and complex process and we are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families,” Deputy Commissioner John Tims said.

How did Friday’s operation unfold?

A “high-speed” retrieval to get the bodies was launched even though the risk of another eruption remained. Going in, authorities knew the location of six of the missing and those bodies were airlifted off the island.

A team of eight specialists from the New Zealand Defence Force flew by helicopter to the island and spent four hours retrieving the bodies. They were taken to a naval patrol boat and then brought back to the mainland.

Volcanologists had warned that if the volcano erupted while they were on the island, the team could face magma, superheated steam, ash and rocks thrown at high speed. The specialists who went to the island were wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus.

Speaking to reporters after the bodies were retrieved, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said questions over why people were allowed to visit the active volcano “must be answered, and will be answered”.

But she said “we also need to respect the phase we’re in now, with families only just getting their loved ones back”.

How were the others saved?

Out of the 47 people on the island when the eruption happened, 24 were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK, and one from Malaysia.

After the eruption, most of the visitors were taken off the island in dramatic rescue efforts. Some tourist boats already on the way to the mainland turned back to take in those stranded.

Meanwhile, commercial pilots headed back to the island – as the eruption was ongoing – to look for survivors. Many of those who made it off the island were severely injured and burnt.

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Media caption“Toxic gases and ash”: The BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil flies around White Island