WHAKATANE, New Zealand — New Zealand police and military specialists launched a risky operation Friday to recover the bodies of eight victims of a volcanic eruption on an island that has left at least eight others dead.
Just after first light, two helicopters from the New Zealand Defence Force lifted off from the township of Whakatane and traveled 30 miles to White Island off New Zealand’s eastern coast.
Eight military specialists wearing protective clothing and using breathing apparatuses landed and are trying to recover the bodies, police said. Scientists have warned that gases on the island after Monday’s eruption are so toxic and corrosive that a single inhalation could be fatal.
Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told reporters Thursday evening that drones had pinpointed six bodies, but the location of two others was unknown. He expected the operation to take several hours.
Police, military, and other personnel will monitor the recovery operation from a ship stationed just off the island. Volcanologists will provide the recovery team with information on the volcano’s behavior.
Scientists have warned that volcanic activity has increased in recent days, and that the island is “highly volatile.” That has delayed the recovery of the last victims since Monday’s eruption, which occurred as 47 tourists and their guides were exploring the island. In addition to the bodies left on the island, eight other people were killed and dozens were severely burned by the blast of scalding steam and ash.