(Reuters) – New Zealand recovery teams returned to the volcanic White Island on Sunday but were unable to locate two remaining bodies in their search, as the death toll from Monday’s eruption rose to 16, police said.
New Zealand Police Search and Rescue and Disaster Victim Identification staff return to Whakatane Airport after conducting a search for bodies in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, which is also known by its Maori name Whakaari, December 15, 2019. New Zealand Police/Handout via REUTERS
Authorities said eight police search and rescue staff were deployed for 75 minutes to an area in which their information suggested one body may remain.
“I can say we have found no further bodies in that area,” Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement told a media conference on Sunday.
On Friday, six bodies were successfully retrieved from the island by a New Zealand military team and taken to the mainland for disaster victim identification.
Police said they remained committed to recovering the two bodies and that police and military divers were continuing to scour the waters around the island.
“Everyone went out there absolutely desperate to find bodies and return them to loved ones,” Clement said.
On Saturday, divers faced contaminated waters and low visibility as they searched the sea surrounding the island.
The volcano, a popular destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people on the island at the time were Australian, U.S., German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists.
The death toll rose to 16 on Sunday as one more person died in an Australian hospital. That death is the first to occur in Australia following the eruption, where many of the victims were from and have been transferred.
The toll may rise further as more than two dozen people are still hospitalized across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.
Police on Saturday began formally releasing the names and nationalities of those killed, with 21-year-old Australian Krystal Browitt the first person identified.
On Sunday, police also released the names of New Zealander Tipene Maangi and Australians Zoe Hosking, Gavin Dallow and Anthony Langford.
There has been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given signs of increasing tremor activity in the days before the eruption.
A minute’s silence will be observed in New Zealand on Monday, December 16 at 2.11 p.m. local time (0111 GMT), exactly one week after the fatal eruption occurred.
Reporting by Will Ziebell in Melbourne; Editing by David Gregorio and Lincoln Feast.