A follow-up mission to New Zealand’s White Island in a bid to retrieve the remains of those still missing after Monday’s volcanic eruption has been unsuccessful.
Defence force operatives returned to Whakaari on Sunday, two days after their successful high-stakes trip to the active volcano brought back six bodies.
Police understand eight people were killed on the island, and spent Saturday debriefing the operation and searching nearby waters for the last two bodies.
Mission command firmly believe a seventh body is in the water, and are increasingly convinced the eighth could be too.
However, both Saturday’s water-based search and Sunday’s landing failed to turn up the remains.
National operations commander and New Zealand police deputy commissioner John Tims said Sunday morning’s visit was quicker than Friday’s four-hour salvage effort.
“They will be wearing the same protective clothing as the eight New Zealand defence force personnel who were on the island on Friday, however their breathing apparatus will be different, meaning they will only be able to stay on the island for up to 75 minutes,” he said before the mission.
“Two teams of four search and rescue and disaster victim identification staff are being taken to the island by helicopter.
“These police staff will be deployed to an area of the island where our best information suggests a body might be.
“The police Eagle helicopter will be above the island in an operational support capacity, as will the helicopters that dropped off the ground teams.
“A GNS scientist will remain on board Eagle to monitor the environment in real-time.”
Despite returning back to the mainland empty-handed, police underlined their commitment to the job.
“We remain committed to finishing the task at hand and returning the two remaining bodies to their loved ones,” Tims said.
In total, 47 people were on White Island during Monday’s deadly blast.
The New Zealand Health Ministry confirmed the death toll as of Sunday morning was 15 after a patient in Waikato hospital died from their injuries on Saturday night.
There are 14 patients being cared for in four burns units around New Zealand – Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Waikato, and Christchurch – with 10 listed as critical.
In the days after the blast, 13 Australians have been repatriated to hospitals back home. Nine Australians are confirmed dead and a further two are presumed to have died.
On Sunday at least 10 Australians remained in critical condition.
Two NSW residents who arrived overnight at Sydney’s Royal North Shore hospital were among seven across the city’s hospitals listed as critical.
Two other NSW victims were stable while another’s family had requested privacy.
Three patients evacuated from New Zealand to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne were also critically ill.
Some 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, were on the island when the volcano erupted on Monday.
Brisbane woman Julie Richards and her university student daughter Jessica; Coffs Harbour couple Richard Elzer and Karla Matthews; Melbourne woman Krystal Browitt and Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15, were all believed to have perished when heat, ash and toxic gases enveloped the island following the eruption.
Browitt was enrolled in La Trobe University’s bachelor of veterinary nursing degree run via Melbourne Polytechnic, the institution confirmed on Saturday.
“Our thoughts are with her immediate family and we also extend our heartfelt condolences to all of Krystal’s family and friends at this very difficult time,” the university said in a statement on Saturday after NZ police confirmed her death.
Sydney’s Hollander brothers Berend, 16, and Matthew, 13, and Coffs Harbour man Jason Griffiths died in hospital from their burns, while Adelaide man Gavin Dallow, 53, was declared dead on Wednesday.
Fears were held for Berend and Matthew’s parents Martin and Barbara Hollander, while Sydney couple Anthony and Kristine Langford and their daughter Winona, 17, were missing.
Extended family have indicated the Langfords’ son Jesse, 19, survived. He is likely among those being treated in Sydney.