Recovery teams return from Whakaari/ White Island without bodies

6:34 pm on 15 December 2019

A sixteenth person has died following the Whakaari / White Island eruption.

Recovery teams have returned from Whakaari/White Island.

Recovery teams have returned from Whakaari/White Island. Photo: Robin Martin

Police say the person was injured in the eruption and later repatriated to Australia but died yesterday.

"This person will come under Australia's coronial jurisdiction," deputy commissioner John Tims said.

"As a result, New Zealand authorities will not be responsible for releasing this person's name."

Tims said Australian Federal Police have worked closely with New Zealand police over the past week and the relationship has proved invaluable.

ABC reports New South Wales Health confirmed the person died at Concord hospital.

Family have requested the man's name and age not be released.

The official number of dead is now 16 - including 15 people who died in New Zealand.

Dive squad to try again tomorrow

The police national dive squad will be out again tomorrow if weather conditions are suitable.

Today the divers continued their work in the water off the island.

A search this morning failed to find any sign of the two bodies yet to be retrieved.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims said it is a difficult and ongoing task.

"The two teams of four Police Search and Rescue and Disaster Victim Identification specialists searched a water course on the island where our best information suggested a body may be.

"While it is most likely that the two remaining bodies are in the water, we need to be sure," he said.

"While it is frustrating not to have located the remaining two bodies, I'd like to reiterate our commitment to doing all we can to provide a sense of closure to the grieving families.

"I'm pleased there have been two trips to the island, and that police and NZDF staff have come back safe and well, given the physical and mental challenges involved in this operation.

A number of staff are working on the identification process in Auckland and Tims said they are being supported while working on this confronting task.

Earlier today, Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement told media that a search was made along a stream running down the mountain to the sea.

"The stream where the bodies were last seen on Monday runs all the way through to the sea," he said.

"We have found no further bodies in that area."

Clement said police had been working on the theory one body was at sea and the other still on land.

He said everyone involved in the operation was still deeply committed to do everything to find the bodies, if they were there to be found.

Clement said today's result had been a blow to all involved.

"Everyone who went out there is absolutely desperate to find the bodies and return them to loved ones.

"There is every chance that the second body is also in the sea but we wanted to clear the area today, which is effectively what today's exercise was about."

Three helicopters took eight police search and rescue and victim identification personnel to the island.

Two of the helicopters were privately owned and each had two pilots on board with local knowledge. A police Eagle helicopter was flying above with a GNS scientist aboard monitoring the volcano.

On Friday, six bodies were recovered from the island.

Today's teams were wearing the same protective clothing as the Defence Force personnel who recovered six bodies on Friday.

Recovery teams wash off toxic residues after their mission to Whakaari/White Island.

Recovery teams wash off toxic residues after their mission to Whakaari/White Island. Photo: Robin Martin

Yesterday, GNS said there had been no further eruptive activity since Monday's fatal blast, but the situation remained highly volatile.


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