NZ Defence Force vessels assist in recovery efforts following White Island volcanic eruption

Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

The Royal New Zealand Navy and other elements of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) have been providing assistance in an ongoing effort to recover the remains of victims of the recent volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island.

The Protector-class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) HMNZS Wellington and a number of small boats carrying medical staff have been deployed to the area in the wake of the eruption, which occurred at 14:11 local time on Monday, December 9.

Early on Friday, December 13, an NZDF recovery team of six Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialists and a ground commander were able to find the bodies of six people who died in the eruption.

The recovery team worked in pairs to move the deceased people to a central location. A Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter then transported the bodies to Wellington, which was stationed a short distance from the island.

The NZDF said that conditions and terrain on Whakaari/White Island proved challenging and planning for the recovery operation had included minimising risks to personnel on the ground.

Exit strategies have also been planned in the event of another eruption.

NZDF officials added that support will be provided in the coming days for efforts to recover the bodies of two more victims.

Of the 47 people who were on Whakaari/White Island when the eruption occurred, 16 are confirmed dead while 28 others suffered varying degrees of injury.

Some of the casualties were passengers of the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, which had made a scheduled stop at the island on Monday morning as part of a 12-day voyage.

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