Asia-Pacific

Unsuccessful search on White Island in bid to retrieve final two bodies

Rescue and search team on the ground earlier in the week. Source: New Zealand Defence Force

The New Zealand Health Ministry has announced the death toll from Monday's volcano eruption remains at 15, after an unsuccessful follow-up mission on the island.

A follow-up mission to New Zealand's White Island in a bid to retrieve the remains of those still missing after last Monday's volcanic eruption, has been unsuccessful.

Defence force operatives returned to Whakaari on Sunday, two days after their successful high-stakes trip to the active volcano brought back six bodies.

Police understand eight people were killed on the island, and spent Saturday debriefing the operation and searching nearby waters for the last two bodies.

Mission command firmly believe a seventh body is in the water, and are increasingly convinced the eighth could be too.

However, both Saturday's water-based search and Sunday's landing have failed to turn up the remains.

National Operations Commander and New Zealand police deputy commissioner John Tims said Sunday morning's visit was quicker than Friday's four-hour salvage effort.

"They will be wearing the same protective clothing as the eight New Zealand Defence Force personnel who were on the island on Friday, however their breathing apparatus will be different, meaning they will only be able to stay on the island for up to 75 minutes," he said before the mission.

"Two teams of four search and rescue and disaster victim Identification staff are being taken to the island by helicopter.

"These police staff will be deployed to an area of the island where our best information suggests a body might be.

"The police Eagle helicopter will be above the island in an operational support capacity, as will the helicopters that dropped off the ground teams.

"A GNS scientist will remain on board Eagle to monitor the environment in real-time."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs a first responder in Whakatane, New Zealand.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs a first responder in Whakatane, New Zealand.
RNZ Pool

Despite returning back to the mainland empty-handed, police have underlined their commitment to the job.

"We remain committed to finishing the task at hand and returning the two remaining bodies to their loved ones," Mr Tims said.

In total, 47 people were on White Island during Monday's deadly blast.

The New Zealand Health Ministry confirmed the death toll as of Sunday morning was 15 after a patient in Waikato Hospital died from their injuries on Saturday night.

There are 14 patients being cared for in four burns units around New Zealand - Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Waikato, and Christchurch - with 10 listed as critical.

Families of victims of the White Island eruption walk to a nearby marae after arriving back to the Whakatane wharf following a blessing at sea.
Families of victims of the White Island eruption walk to a nearby marae after arriving back to the Whakatane wharf following a blessing at sea.
AP

In the days after the blast, 13 Australians have been repatriated to hospitals back home.

Nine Australians are confirmed dead, two are presumed to have died and 13 are in hospital with severe burns.

However, that may change, with NZ police confirming on Saturday evening that another victim of the blast had died in hospital, without offering further details.

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