Anguished family and friends of the victims of the White Island volcano disaster are torn with emotions after the first deceased Australians were formally identified as others learned loved ones survived the initial eruption and are fighting for their lives in hospital.
Four Australians have been identified as dead. Brisbane mother Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20 were the first to be publicly named.
Late on Wednesday, Adelaide lawyer Gavin Dallow was also named as one of the victims and family were informed his 15-year-old stepdaughter, Zoe Hosking, is also presumed dead and her body is still on the island. Zoe’s mother Lisa was reported on Tuesday as having been found in a hospital suffering from severe burns.
At least three other Australians are feared dead after New Zealand police released a list of those officially missing: Coffs Harbour couple Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, and Melbourne woman Krystal Browitt.
Police said these people, along with the four Australians publicly identified, were either not in hospital or had not been discharged. The list of the missing is not exhaustive because police have not been able to speak to all of the next of kin involved.
As of Wednesday evening, 13 Australians remained in hospital, some in a critical condition and 11 were missing, presumed dead.
Three Royal Australian Air Force aircraft flew into Christchurch last night with teams of specialist medical crew and equipment on board to repatriate up to 10 Australians to hospitals in NSW and Victoria within the next 24 hours.
Sydney university student Jesse Langford, 19, has been named as a survivor of Monday’s eruption but late on Wednesday there was still no word of his parents Anthony and Kristine, and his sister Winona, 17.
Six people have been officially confirmed dead. The sixth succumbed to injuries in hospital, and another eight people are presumed dead. Their bodies are still on the island.
Mr Dallow’s father Brian said his son and Zoe were both committed to helping the community.
“Gavin was a wonderful son and brother. Our heart breaks at the loss of Zoe at such a young age,” he said.
Before an investigation to look at why tour groups continued to visit White Island despite heightened warnings of volcanic activity, Mr Dallow said Gavin would not have gone if he had thought it unsafe.
“So I’m pretty sure they weren’t fully informed of the dangers, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone,” he said.
“That’s the only thing I can be really positive about. I think somebody has done the wrong thing over there, or didn’t get things right, or something.”
John Mickel, a friend of the Richards family, said they were united in their grief.
“You obviously live in hope that’s it not going to be your loved one’s name that comes up, but the hope was snuffed out this morning with the message from the New Zealand police,” he said.
Hazards for recovery mission
Conditions again hampered attempts to recover the bodies. Officials said rescue crews faced serious physical and chemical hazards, such as poisonous gas that made breathing impossible and obscured rescuers’ vision.
New Zealand’s geological agency warned there was a 40 to 60 per cent chance of another eruption within the next day.
New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims vowed to return to the island to recover the bodies.
“Those families and friends absolutely deserve closure so I’m going to work really hard to make that happen. We want to go back to that island,” he said.