NZ to retrieve bodies from still-active volcano

Updated December 13, 2019

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An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, on Thursday.—Reuters
An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, on Thursday.—Reuters

WHAKATANE: New Zealand’s military will embark on a risky dawn mission to retrieve eight bodies from the still-active White Island volcano, officials said on Thursday, as pressure from distraught victims’ families mounted.

Teams will move in “shortly after first light” on Friday, deputy police commissioner Mike Clement said, despite volcanologists warning that the chances of another significant eruption in the next 24 hours had risen to 50-60 per cent.

“They will go on to the island and they will make every effort to recover all of the bodies” and transport them to military frigate HMNZS Wellington anchored off the coast, he said.

With the help of drone flights and helicopter pilots who were near the volcano immediately after the eruption, authorities have located six of the eight bodies on the island.

Recovering the six will be a priority, Clement said.

Teams will move in ‘shortly after first light’ today

A geologist will be on hand sifting data in real-time to determine whether another eruption is imminent and whether the mission needs to be aborted.

“The risk is not gone,” Clement said. “Of course I’m going to worry tonight.” “People are putting themselves on the front-line to do the right thing... our thoughts and our prayers and our love will be with them.” The number of people believed to have died in Monday’s disaster now stands at 16.

That includes the eight people thought to be still on White Island — among them New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.

His brother Mark Inman has epitomised families’ frustrations with stalled recovery efforts, putting the delay down to “red tape, bureaucracy” and failed leadership, while offering to go to the island himself.

A visibly anguished Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier expressed empathy with the families but insisted “everyone is desperate to get those victims back”.

“We are all in exactly the same place and wanting to make sure that as soon as possible, as soon as we can, that recovery operation begins.” After days of caution and focusing on the risk to rescuers, police have indicated they now see the recovery as a race against time, and the longer the operation is delayed, the less chance there is of returning identifiable remains to grieving families.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019