NZ volcano: More Aussies officially declared dead

 

The names of three more victims of the White Island tragedy have been released by police.

In a statement on Sunday, New Zealand officers confirmed Sydney teen Matthew Robert Hollander, 13, and his brother Berend Lawrence Hollander, 16 - both US citizens but Australian permanent residents - were among those killed in the volcanic eruption on December 9, along with Karla Michelle Mathews, 32.

The release of their names comes just hours after police officially confirmed Australians Zoe Ella Hosking, 15, Gavin Brian Dallow, 53, Anthony James Langford and Krystal Eve Browitt, 21, also died in the horrific natural event.

Their names were listed online alongside New Zealand tour guide Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi, 24.

Australians Gavin Dallow, Zoe Hosking, and Anthony James Langford have been formally identified as victims of the eruption. Picture: Supplied
Australians Gavin Dallow, Zoe Hosking, and Anthony James Langford have been formally identified as victims of the eruption. Picture: Supplied

Information on the victims also follows New Zealand police and NSW Health confirming the death of another White Island victim - a man who was repatriated to Australia for treatment.

It was confirmed he died in Sydney's Concord Hopspital on Saturday.

The man's passing brings the number of Australians killed in last week's tragedy to 10.

The figure does not include the three other Australians missing and presumed dead or the four Australian permanent residents involved in the tragedy.

Of the Australian permanent residents, only one has survived and was medically evacuated. This person is now on home soil.

The figure does - however - include an Australian, seriously injured in the event, dying in a New Zealand hospital.

Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims speaking to media about the White Island tragedy. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty
Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims speaking to media about the White Island tragedy. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty

"Police can confirm a further person injured in the Whakaari / White Island eruption, and later repatriated to Australia, sadly died (on Saturday)," Deputy Commissioner and National Operations Commander John Tims said about 3.30pm on Sunday.

"This person will come under Australia's coronial jurisdiction.

"As a result, New Zealand authorities will not be responsible for releasing this person's name.

"The official number of deceased is now 16 - this includes 15 people who died in New Zealand and one person in Australia."

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne will fly to New Zealand to express Australia's "deep appreciation" for the quick response and recovery of White Island victim bodies.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne eill fly to New Zealand on Monday. Picture: Mick Tsikas
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne eill fly to New Zealand on Monday. Picture: Mick Tsikas

She will be based in Wellington until Wednesday to spend time with Kiwi leaders, officials and the emergency personnel who worked tireslely to save and identify Australians.

The Australian Government has confirmed 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, were affected by the horrific tragedy on December 9.

"Our hearts go out to all of the families and loved ones of those affected," Ms Payne said.

"Australia thanks the New Zealand Defence Force members who returned to the site of the eruption to recover those who lost their lives, the New Zealand police for their ongoing close cooperation, and the many New Zealand medical professionals who have been involved in treating victims.

"We thank and acknowledge Ngāti Awa for the care and sensitivity they have shown to loved ones of the victims, at a time when they too are grieving.

"I would like also to thank all of the doctors, nurses and health care professionals who are treating Australian patients at specialist burns centres at Concord Hospital, Royal North Shore Hospital and the Alfred Hospital."

NZ VOLCANO: BODY RECOVERY MISSION

Six bodies were recovered by the SAS on Friday but two remain missing which New Zealand police believe may now both be in the sea.

News Corp understands police were looking for the body of a female Australian tourist on the island yesterday and believe the body of Kiwi tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman is in the ocean.

 

In a statement, police named Kiwi tour guide Tipene Maangi, 24, as among the dead; as well as Australians Zoe Hosking, 15, Gavin Dallow, 53, and Anthony James Langford, 51.

The death toll now stands at 18 following the explosion, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered.

Another 26 survivors of the horrific tragedy remain in New Zealand and Australian hospitals.

Of those, 20 are listed as being in critical condition and fighting for the lives.

'THE RESCUE TEAMS ARE FRUSTRATED'

Two teams of four New Zealand Police Search and Rescue and Disaster Identification officers wearing Hazmat suits were choppered onto the still smoking rock to look for them at 8.30am on Sunday.

"There is every chance the other body is in the sea," Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said after yesterday's failed search, adding he was "satisfied the area (they) searched near the jetty (was) clear of the bodies".

"The rescue teams are frustrated. We understand completely how frustrating it is for loved ones who want the bodies back."

Police divers had spent much of Saturday unsuccessfully searching the ocean near the volcano for one body in toxic, low visibility conditions with dead fish and eels floating around them.

However, divers are now back in the water around the Bay of Plenty island, hoping they can reach a breakthrough.

Police divers preparing to search the waters near White Island. Picture: New Zealand police via AP
Police divers preparing to search the waters near White Island. Picture: New Zealand police via AP

Mr Clement vowed his team was not going to "give up easily" but there would be a time "where we've done everything we can".

The searchers had just enough oxygen for 75 minutes and checked for the missing tourist under sediment near the jetty in a process that Mr Clement said is "tough going for everybody".

"People who go on the island get exhausted very quickly due to all the gear and the conditions," he said.

 

Fifteen people remain in four hospitals in New Zealand with another 13 airlifted back for treatment in specialist burns units in Australia.

Across Concord Hospital and Sydney North Shore Hospital, five patients are in a critical condition while three patients are in a stable condition, according to an update from NSW Health this morning.

The family of two patients have requested privacy.

Protective gear worn during the Whakaari rescue operation on Friday is seen displayed in New Zealand. Picture: AP
Protective gear worn during the Whakaari rescue operation on Friday is seen displayed in New Zealand. Picture: AP

Three patients evacuated from New Zealand to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne are also critically ill.

Most of the victims came from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship The Ovation of the Seas which returns to its home port in Sydney on early Monday morning.

SCIENTISTS: NO FURTHER SIGNIFICANT ACTIVITY SINCE ERUPTION

Scientists monitoring White Island say there has been no further significant activity since Monday's eruption. However, the risk remained.

A glow was visible from the vent area overnight "which confirms there is a high heat flow present."

This is according to Geoff Kilgour, a volcanologist with GNS Science, which monitors seismic and volcanic activity in New Zealand.

"This has been confirmed today by an aerial observation this morning that noted an active crater is emitting volcanic gas at a high rate and very high temperature" above 200 Celsius (392F), he said.

'IT'S JUST SO MUCH HOTTER THAN YOU COULD EXPECT'

Just how difficult the task of finding the remaining bodies was explained by the leader of the unit from New Zealand's elite SAS E Squadron who led Friday's recovery mission.

The commander, who could only be identified as Matt, told New Zealand media when they reached the bodies in the crater they hit dense mud.

"It was unbelievable, not a condition we train for or ever expect to operate in, it's just so much hotter than you could expect," he said.

They were wearing three layers of protective clothing and a 15kg breathing set.

Once they found the bodies they quickly got into pairs and moved them to a site for airlift back to HMNZS Wellington.

Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP
Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP

He said by the time his team got off the island they were pretty "crook".

They have since been given a clean bill of medical health and were "stoked" to bring the six victims back to their families.

Colonel Rian McKinstry said: "There were a few people vomiting, drinking water, and everyone was very fatigued."

"These guys have gone past the limits of endurance, what's taken them past some of those limits has been their professionalism, but it's also their human nature - their understanding of the situation, and not wanting to not achieve this task."

FIRST AUSTRALIAN BODY RECOVERED FROM ISLAND IDENTIFIED

On Saturday, Melburnian Krystal Browitt, 21, became the first Australian recovered from the still smoking White Island after a daring mission by New Zealand Defence Force troops.

Ms Browitt was on a Royal Caribbean cruise celebrating her birthday with her family from Melbourne when the volcano erupted at 2.11pm on Monday afternoon.

Krystal Browitt, a victim of the White Island voclanic disaster. Picture: Supplied
Krystal Browitt, a victim of the White Island voclanic disaster. Picture: Supplied

Her father Paul and sister Stephanie were also injured in the blast.

Krystal's mother Maria had decided not to take the tour.

She was by the bedside of her eldest daughter Stephanie when her husband Paul was flown back to Australia for treatment at the Alfred Hospital's specialist burns unit.

Yesterday, police divers continued to search the waters off the active volcano for the bodies of a missing Australian tourist and New Zealand tour guide.

Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP
Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP

The operation to recover the bodies was carried out by the elite SAS unit E Squadron.

The SAS members managed to retrieve just six of the eight leaving one Australian and a tour guide, believed to be Hayden Marshall-Inman, still unaccounted for.

Police backed up by navy specialists continued unsuccessfully to search the waters off the island in "unique and challenging conditions" yesterday.

The search area where six bodies were recovered from White Island. Picture: Google Earth
The search area where six bodies were recovered from White Island. Picture: Google Earth

"The water around the island is contaminated, requiring the divers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, including using specialist protective equipment," a police spokesman said.

"Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water."

The divers were decontaminated with fresh water after each dive.

Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP
Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP

Deputy Commissioner Clements said police believed one body was in the water and the other remained on the island, possibly in a watercourse that led to the sea.

But he said they were better informed about the volcano after Friday's four hour mission. "We have learnt that underfoot it is really tricky going, particularly in the area that we think we have to go back to as that is in a watercourse.

"The operators on the ground yesterday were actually sinking up to calf level. That makes it really difficult in terms of footing and energy levels and if you are using oxygen, that is very sapping on the oxygen level."

GeoNet scientists warned "the situation remains highly volatile" and that ash and the smell of gas could reach the mainland because "magma is degassing at shallow depths."

AUSSIES WHO WERE MISSING ON THE ISLAND

Missing on the island were mother Julie Richards, 47, and daughter Jessica, 20, from Brisbane; Zoe Hosking, 15, from Adelaide; and Richard Elzer, 32; and Karla Mathews, 32, from Coffs Harbour.

Julie Richards, 47 and her daughter, Jessica Richards, 20, who were the first Australian victims of the volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand. Picture: AAP/Facebook
Julie Richards, 47 and her daughter, Jessica Richards, 20, who were the first Australian victims of the volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand. Picture: AAP/Facebook

Krystal Browitt, 21, from Melbourne, was the first victim recovered from the island to be formally identified on Saturday.

Police have since confirmed the bodies of Ms Hosking and of tour guide Tipene Maangi were also retrieved.

Mr Elzer's father Peter was believed to be among the Australians accompanied by High Commissioner Patricia Forsythe to Whakatane and heartbreakingly told fellow guests at his hotel: "I've just lost my son and daughter-in-law on the volcano".

BODY IDENTIFICATION TO TAKE WEEKS

The six bodies recovered from White Island were flown to Auckland where they were met be a fleet of hearses which took them to the hospital to begin a five step disaster management identification process.

Westpac Helicopter arriving at Whakatane airport after retrieving six bodies off White Island. Picture: Adam Yip
Westpac Helicopter arriving at Whakatane airport after retrieving six bodies off White Island. Picture: Adam Yip

"This is a long and complex process and we are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families," Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said.

"It would be unforgivable to get the identification process wrong."

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However, the first stage, examining the bodies at the scene, has already been rushed with GeoNet scientists warning a 50 to 60 per cent likelihood of another eruption.

The bodies will then be checked by pathologists and dentists and compared against records obtained by police before a complete debrief leads to the identification.

The recovery operation at Whakaari/White Island. Picture: Getty
The recovery operation at Whakaari/White Island. Picture: Getty

The deep acid nature of the burns from the volcano, causing skin to come off the hands of medical staff, has made the process extremely difficult.

Police say the explosion killed 15 people which included 12 Australians with a further 13 airlifted home to Australia for treatment.

Tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Picture: Michael Schade via AP
Tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Picture: Michael Schade via AP

DREADFUL MIX-UPS AS AUSSIE CRUISE TO END

Most of the victims came from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship The Ovation of the Seas which returns to its home port in Sydney early Monday.

But the horrific injuries have led to dreadful mix-ups with one Australian family, who believed their loved one was missing on the volcano, being called and told they were actually in hospital.

When they got there the victim had different coloured eyes.

Families of the victims returning from giving blessing to the military personal who carried out the operation to retrieve the bodies off White Island. Picture: Adam Yip
Families of the victims returning from giving blessing to the military personal who carried out the operation to retrieve the bodies off White Island. Picture: Adam Yip

 

An operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP
An operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand. Picture: AP

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a minute's silence exactly one week after the eruption at 2.11pm on Monday to honour the victims.

"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."

A Navy helicopter leaving Whakatane airport after retrieving six bodies off White Island earlier. Picture: Adam Yip
A Navy helicopter leaving Whakatane airport after retrieving six bodies off White Island earlier. Picture: Adam Yip

But even as she led the mourning volcano experts at a conference in California were shaking their heads at the country allowing tourists to visit an active, privately owned volcano with the decision on whether it was safe or not left in the hands of the tour operator.

"The alert levels are sort of advisory. You can't put the responsibility on the tour operators - they have mixed allegiances, they are a business," volcanologist Dr Erik Klemetti from Denison University in Ohio said.

Recovered bodies from White Island arrive at RNZAF Base Auckland, Whenuapai. Picture: New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig
Recovered bodies from White Island arrive at RNZAF Base Auckland, Whenuapai. Picture: New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig

Dr Klemetti warned that taking tourists to White Island was the "perfect cocktail" for tragedy in a 2012 article entitled How Dangerous is Visiting New Zealand's White Island?

"You are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.

"Will it take half a dozen deaths at White Island to change the culture, or is that merely the cost of being adventurous?" he wrote in the article published in the American magazine Wired.

"By making the visits to the White Island crater seem routine, it can lull the tour operators and tourists into a false sense of security."

- with AAP and staff writers

White island volcano victims Richard Elzer and Karla Matthews of Coffs Harbour. Picture: Facebook
White island volcano victims Richard Elzer and Karla Matthews of Coffs Harbour. Picture: Facebook

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