New Zealand volcano: Death toll rises with two still missing

New Zealand Police Search and Rescue and Disaster Victim Identification staff return to Whakatane Airport after conducting a search for bodiesImage copyright
New Zealand Police

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Search and rescue staff returned after searching for two missing bodies on Sunday

A person who was being treated in hospital after the eruption of New Zealand’s White Island volcano has died, police say.

The unidentified victim died in Australia after being sent for treatment. About 20 people remain in intensive care with severe burns.

The death brings to 16 the number of confirmed deaths.

Recovery teams returned to the island on Sunday to try to locate another two remaining bodies.

Eight police search and rescue personnel were deployed for 75 minutes to an area in which at least one of the bodies was believed to be. “We have found no further bodies in that area,” Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement told reporters.

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Police said they remained committed to retrieving the bodies and that police and military divers would continue to search the waters around White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari. On Saturday, teams faced contaminated waters and poor visibility after one body was spotted in the water.

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Divers have been searching for bodies for several days

“There was every chance that the second body was also in the sea,” Mr Clement said, “but we wanted to clear the area today [Sunday], which is effectively what today’s exercise was about.”

There had been no further significant activity in White Island since last Monday’s eruption but the risk of eruption remained, Geoff Kilgour, a volcanologist with GNS Science, was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

What about the identification of the victims?

The identification process is being carried out in Auckland by experts including a pathologist, a forensic dentist and a fingerprint officer.

Four more victims were named by police on Sunday, including 24-year-old New Zealand tour guide Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi.

The other three, all Australians, were 15-year-old Zoe Ella Hosking and her 53-year-old stepfather Gavin Brian Dallow, as well as 51-year-old Anthony James Langford.

On Saturday, 21-year-old Krystal Eve Browitt, also from Australia, was the first person identified.

Police are gathering information about possible victims, such as descriptions of appearance, clothing, photos, fingerprints, medical and dental records and DNA samples. These details will then be matched to the evidence gathered in the post-mortem examination.

Out of the 47 people on the island when the eruption happened, 24 were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK, and one from Malaysia.

On Monday, a minute’s silence will be observed in New Zealand at 14:11 local time (01:11 GMT) to mark one week since the eruption.

Media caption“Toxic gases and ash”: The BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil flies around White Island