Toxic fumes hamper search for final New Zealand volcano victims
15 December 2019, 12:00
A desperate search to find the last two bodies of victims who died in a volcano eruption in New Zealand last Monday has been halted due to toxic fumes on the island.
The tragedy claimed the lives of at least 16 people, most of whom were tourists.
New Zealand police confirmed the 16th victim died on Saturday at Sydney's Concord Hospital, one of several Australian hospitals where survivors suffering from severe burns were being treated.
Two four-person teams landed on the volcanic White Island by helicopter early on Sunday and searched a location thought to be where one of the bodies might be.
The teams were wearing heavy protective clothing due to the toxic air and gases present on the island as a result of the eruption.Their breathing apparatus allowed them to search for only 75 minutes.
The searchers were unable to locate either body and returned to the mainland where they underwent decontamination.
New Zealand Police national operations commander John Tims said the search will continue.
"We have always anticipated recovering all bodies from the island, and we remain deeply committed to that goal, to allow families some closure," he said.
"We are now debriefing, reassessing and coming up with a new plan going forward.
"Mr Tims said the process of identifying victims and releasing bodies to their loved ones was ongoing in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.
"We will continue to release the names of those who have died as soon as we are able to," he said.
Seven victims have so far been named.
The youngest confirmed to be dead so far is 13-year-old Matthew Hollander, whose brother Berend Hollander, 16, also died in the eruption.
Their parents, Martin, 48, and Barbara Hollander, 50, are missing and presumed dead.
The first victim to be named was Krystal Browitt, a veterinary nursing student from Melbourne, Australia, who turned 21 on November 29.
On Sunday, Zoe Hosking, 15, and her stepfather Gavin Dallow, 53, both from Adelaide, were confirmed as dead.
Lisa Dallow, Zoe's mother, is being treated for severe burns.
Anthony Langford, 51, of Sydney, has also been confirmed dead, and his son Jesse, 19, is in hospital
His wife, Kristine Langford and daughter Winona, 17, are still unaccounted for.
New Zealand resident Tipene Maangi, 24, have also been confirmed to be among the victims.
Two British women were among those admitted to hospital in New Zealand after the volcano erupted.
All 13 Australians who suffered burns were transported to hospitals around Australia for treatment, at least eight of whom are reported to be in a critical condition.
Navy and police divers are expected to resume the search of waters around the island later on Sunday.