New Zealand Defence Force personnel today recovered the bodies of six people killed in Monday’s eruption on Whakaari/White Island and will support efforts to recover the bodies of two others.
CAPTION: Two New Zealand Defence Force explosives-ordnance disposal experts in hazmat suits set out to recover bodies from the White Island volcano debris field. NZDF photo.
The recovery team included six NZDF explosive-ordnance disposal specialists and a ground commander, with medical staff on small boats nearby.
Working in pairs, the ground team moved the deceased to a central location, where a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter transported the bodies to HMNZS Wellington, which was stationed a short distance from the island.
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said said the recovery operation had been well planned but was not without risk and he acknowledged all those who had put themselves in danger to achieve this outcome for the families of the six deceased and the community.
“The conditions and terrain on Whakaari/White Island were difficult and planning for today’s recovery operation had included minimising risks to personnel on the ground, including exit strategies in the event of another eruption,” Rear Admiral Gilmour said.
“We had go/no-go criteria before carrying out the recovery operation.
“We cannot downplay the risk involved in this operation and I acknowledge the efforts of all those who placed themselves potentially in danger to achieve a result for the families and community.”
Rear Admiral Gilmour said the thoughts of all those involved in the recovery operation today were with the victims and their loved ones.
“Our personnel feel a keen sense of duty and join to serve New Zealand.
“It is this sense of duty that sees them willing to undertake operations like this, understanding the risks involved.
“We are acutely aware that while there has been some resolution for the families of the six identified deceased on the island, the families of two others are still waiting to have their loved ones returned to them, and we will continue to support New Zealand Police efforts to recover the two deceased,’’ Rear Admiral Gilmour said.
Rear Admiral Gilmour said he acknowledge the leadership of the New Zealand Police and other agencies involved in the recovery operations to date, as well as the heroic efforts of medical staff across New Zealand treating survivors.
“A broad range of capabilities and personnel had been involved in the rescue and recovery operation since the eruption on Monday,” he said.
“This has ranged from personnel who specialise in imagery analysis, to those operating military assets as well as those who went on to the island today.”
Over the past week, support has included:
- Air surveillance by P3K2 Orion plus NH90 helicopter support, including for patient transfers on Monday night, and air transport including by A109 helicopter.
- HMNZS Wellington and the Royal New Zealand Navy’s SH2G Seasprite helicopters, which had carried out surveillance and support.
- Personnel from the New Zealand Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal squadron with their specialist hazardous-materials equipment and training.
- Mortuary affairs and disaster victim identification teams assisting civil authorities in Whakatane and Auckland.
- Personnel from the Deployable Joint Interagency Task Force who have performed command-and-control functions in support of recovery efforts.