Three more Australians have been formally identified as among the White Island eruption victims recovered in a rescue mission on Friday, as toxic conditions hampered attempts to retrieve the final two bodies that remain on the volcano.
Zoe Hosking, 15, and her stepfather Gavin Dallow’s names were released by the police on Sunday, following their family publicly confirming they were presumed dead during the week.
The police also released the names of Australian Anthony Langford and New Zealander Tipene Maangi on Sunday and Melbourne student Krystal Browitt on Saturday.
One of the 13 Australians who were repatriated to have their burns treated locally died at Concord Hospital on Sunday, bringing the total death toll of the tragedy to 16. The man’s family requested that his name and age not be released.
The condition of another Australian victim stabilised at the same hospital overnight, NSW Health reported, while five others remained in critically ill condition at the Concord and Royal North Shore hospitals.
New Zealand Defence Force operatives returned to the island on Sunday to try to retrieve the remains of the two missing people were not recovered in a high-stakes mission on Friday.
But conditions described by the deputy police commissioner as “unique and challenging” hampered their attempts, as rescuers face knee-deep ash, poisonous air and boiling acid.
Further, volcanologists put the odds of another eruption at 50-60 per cent and members of Friday’s mission said they could feel the volcano rumbling underneath them and water boiling beneath the soil on the island.
“I can say we have found no further bodies in that area,” Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said on Sunday, describing the unsuccessful mission as “a blow for police”.
“Everyone went out there absolutely desperate to find bodies and return them to loved ones.”
Sea turns toxic
Eight people landed on the island by helicopter early in the morning and searched a location where authorities believe one of the missing bodies is most likely to be.
It was a shorter mission than Friday’s four-hour expedition, however, as the team’s breathing apparatus allowed them to search for only 75 minutes.
They also had to wear heavy protective clothing and undergo decontamination once back on the mainland to mitigate the effect of toxic ash and gases.
The toxicity has seeped into the water around Whakaari, or White Island too, and near-zero visibility under the sea hampered a search by police divers on Saturday.
Authorities believe at least one of the two remaining missing bodies is in the sea around the volcano as rescue teams reported seeing a body in the sea the day after the eruption, and increasingly believe the second body may also be there.
Ash and fallout from the eruption mean the water near the island is also toxic, and divers have to be decontaminated after each dive. They reported seeing dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water.
Divers planned to recommence their search late on Sunday.
National minute of silence
New Zealanders will observe a minute’s silence on Monday, exactly one week after the fatal eruption at 2.11pm local time. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her cabinet would pause in silence during their regular meeting at parliament.
“Wherever you are in New Zealand or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy,” Ms Ardern said.
“Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt and our support for their grieving families and friends.”
After a harrowing week that focused on the recovery and treatment of victims, the small tourist town of Whakatane, which is the main access point to Whakaari, is beginning to think of the broader consequences of the eruption.
Local business owner Mark Law says the town’s adventure tourism industry faces an uncertain future in the wake of the tragedy.
“We’re going to be greatly affected, we’re anticipating probably damn near shutting the doors. It’s going to be devastating, we’ve been operating that part of our business for years,” Mr Law said.
The helicopter pilot, who flew out to the volcano immediately after its eruption to help ferry survivors to hospital, anticipated that some of his seven staff could lose their jobs.