New Zealand recovers six bodies from toxic volcanic island

WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND (AP) — As grieving families sang traditional Maori songs, New Zealand military specialists wearing protective gear landed on a small volcanic island yesterday and recovered six bodies of the 16 people who died in an eruption four days earlier.

The specialists — six men and two women wearing hooded protective suits and using breathing gear — landed by helicopter on White Island and found six of the eight bodies thought to be there.

“We know that reunification won’t ease that sense of loss or grief because I don’t think anything can. But we felt an enormous duty of care as New Zealanders to make sure that we brought their family members back,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference. The families cheered and expressed joy and relief upon being told of the successful recovery, Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said. “They’ve got their loved ones coming home,” Haumaha said.

The bodies were airlifted to a nearby ship where the risky operation was monitored.

Toxic volcanic gases are still venting from the crater, and scientists said another eruption like the fatal one on Monday is possible.

The bodies were to be taken to Auckland for identification. They are thought to be Australians, who were most of the visitors to the island on Monday when the volcano erupted.

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