New Zealand Recovers 6 Bodies From Volcanic Island, Prepares Airlift

A New Zealand military team that landed on a volcanic island on Friday has recovered six of eight bodies and are preparing to send them back to the capital city Wellington, police said in a statement.

The high-risk operation on White Island, located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the east coast of New Zealands North Island began after 6 a.m. (1700 GMT Thursday) despite the risk of a fresh volcanic eruption.

Relatives hug as they wait for rescue mission, following the White Island volcano eruption in Whakatane
Relatives hug as they wait for rescue mission, following the White Island volcano eruption in Whakatane
Relatives hug as they wait for rescue mission, following the White Island volcano eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, on Dec. 13, 2019. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

“Six bodies have been prepared for airlifting off White Island and the process to transport them to HMNZS Wellington by helicopter has begun,” National Operations Commander John Tims said in his latest statement. HMNZS is an off-shore patrol vessel in Wellington.

The weather, sea state, and conditions on the island were all good, police said earlier today, but the operation took longer than expected due to the protective equipment the recovery team was wearing.

“The volcano is behaving,” Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told reporters in Whakatane earlier in the day.

The volcano, a popular tourist destination for day-trips, erupted on Monday, spewing ash and steam over the island. The death toll stands at eight as those still on the island are officially classed as missing until they are formally identified.

More than two dozen people are still being treated for severe burns in New Zealand and Australia.

A blessing was held at sea with the victims families before the mission was launched.

Risks High

Six bodies could be seen on White Island from the air and there would be “very limited” opportunity to search for the other two, the police said on Thursday.

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