Whakaari / White Island: Police ask public to watch for washed-up bodies

4:32 pm on 20 December 2019

Police are asking the public to be on lookout for two people still missing after the Whakaari / White Island eruption, while at beaches in the Eastern Bay of Plenty over the next few days.

Divers have been facing challenging conditions around Whakaari / White Island.

The police dive squad has been stood down from searching for the two bodies unaccounted for after the eruption. Photo: NZ Police

The eruption last Monday left 16 people confirmed dead, with another two people still unaccounted for. Police have been searching for the bodies, which are believed to have been washed into the sea.

Superintendent Andy McGregor says McGregor said police divers had been stood down after completing all the searches assigned to them.

"I have to say they're very disappointed and ... probably a bit upset as well that they haven't been able to complete their task of bringing the deceased back to their families."

A police helicopter and a Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft have been searching today. The Coast Guard will be back in the air tomorrow.

McGregor asked holidaymakers to keep a close look out, whether they are on shore, in a boat or in the air.

"And what we say to members of the public is if they come across something that's been washed up or on the shoreline, to right 111 ... to identify the location especially and we'll get someone there as quick as possible."

McGregor says there was no decision yet on when the official search would stop.

Meanwhile on Whakaari/White Island, very hot gas and steam is continuing to spew from active vents, scientists say.

GNS Science said volcanic tremors continued at low levels, but further eruptions over the coming days are unlikely.

An observation flight yesterday confirmed one of the vents was discharging gas and steam at 650 degrees celcius.

Levels of sulphur dioxide were still high, but dropping slightly.

GNS Science said they had also noticed a 12-metre high scarp, left after part of the southwestern slope collapsed into the crater lake.