The Police Commissioner has spoken out against critics as two people caught up in the Whakaari/White Island eruption one week ago today remain unaccounted for.
Specialist teams successfully retrieved the bodies of six of the eight people believed to be on and around the island on Friday.
Yesterday, however, attempts made by divers to find the two remaining bodies were unsuccessful.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that the police and New Zealand Defence Force's focus for the next period will be on "doing everything we can to locate the missing two bodies, and also on identifying and repatriating and returning" them to their loved ones.
Mr Bush said several police search and rescue staff returned to Whakaari/White Island over the weekend to attempt to locate at least one of the people missing following the December 9 eruption.
"It was a challenging job and, unfortunately, we were unable to do that, so today is very much about reassessing what we've done and what we’ll do in the next few days."
One of the bodies is “definitely in the water, and the other possibly so", he said. "We want to do everything we can to ensure that we've eliminated the fact that one of those persons may still be on the island."
There are concerns the water surrounding the island was contaminated in the incident, and police divers have since received "a lot of technical advice" to ensure their health and safety while working in the potentially hazardous conditions.
"This is peculiar and different to anything they’ve done before, so they're getting a lot of technical advice, which enables them to operate safely," he said. "They wouldn't put themselves in real danger, so we take every precaution we can to keep them safe."
Mr Bush also praised the NZDF specialists who "put themselves through horrendous conditions" to help recover the six bodies from Whakaari/White Island on Friday.
"I really take my hat off to what they did to recover those six bodies…Really, what they did for those victims, and for the wider community – we really need to take our hat off to them and acknowledge their courage and their commitment.
"What they do for the nation is highly commendable."
Mr Bush said criticism that police and the NZDF should have gone in to recover the bodies sooner is unfounded, adding that people should "trust the professionals" who "are in possession of all the facts".
"There's a wide range of emotions. You’ve got to accept the fact that people have different approaches to these, people have different views.
"I think it’s really unfortunate that some people are critical. You've got to trust the professionals who will assess the entire risk, so not everyone, other than ourselves, are in possession of all the facts.
"Yes, there were some massive deeds of courage on the day, and all of those people, again, should be acknowledged and recognised for their heroics, but you've got to consider the facts and the risks, weigh them up, understand every piece of information and intelligence that you have, and take every precaution to take other people safe.
"My plea is that you leave that kind of commentary to the experts."
The rescue teams will be continuing with aerial searches today, with the dive teams expected to re-enter the water tomorrow.