TODAY |

Hasty body recovery could compromise White Island victim identification, police say

Rushing into a recovery effort would impact not just safety, but risk damaging evidence that could help the victims of the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, police say.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Rushing in and out could damage evidence needed to identify the victims, according to Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement. Source: 1 NEWS

In a joint press conference today, Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said the local community is living with "a growing sense of desperation".

"No news is not good news for people in this situation," she says.

Your playlist will load after this ad

1 NEWS reporter Katie Stevenson has this midday, December 12 update. Source: 1 NEWS

Her words echo those from helicopter pilot Mark Inman, whose brother Hayden died on the island. Mr Inman appealed to the Government to let him go alone to retrieve his brother and has repeatedly expressed frustration at the lack of action.

In the same press conference, GNS lead volcanologist Nico Fournier said while the alert level has been reduced to level two today, that's only because White Island isn't actively erupting.

In-Depth
Whakaari/White Island disaster: The first 48 hours

"The situation is still highly volatile. This is the most active Whakaari has been since 2016," he says.

Tremors are still increasing, with a 40 to 60 per cent likelihood of another eruption in the next 24 hours, Mr Fournier says.

While a team are working on plans to get back to the island, Police Deputy Commissioner says no one's going until they can mitigate the risk.

"At no time in the last two years has the risk of eruption been so great," he says.

When pressed by reporters, Mr Clement grew passionate.

Your playlist will load after this ad

The two victims were being treated for severe burns at Middlemore and Waikato hospitals. Source: Breakfast

"There won't be a person in this room that has more passion about going onto that island than police staff. I know everybody is watching," he says.

"The potential for further eruption… is unprecedented in the last couple of years, potentially longer, and I simply can't ignore that."

He was blunt when asked if there was a timeline, saying there isn't a satisfactory plan yet and he can't make any commitments to families about when the recovery would take place.

"Could we go on and do it today? … Yes I could. Can I do that in context with the risk and obligation to keep our team safe?"

While one pilot told media last night it would only take 20 minutes to recover the bodies, Mr Clement says rushing into it would also risk damaging evidence around the body - evidence that will likely be needed to help identify people.

"The more time we can spend with the body when we uplift it from the circumstances in which they've done, the more likelihood that we can preserve that evidence.

"Because we'll get no thanks whatsoever if we reach a situation at the end of this where we're not able to sign off on identity. That would be an absolute poor outcome for us."

Your playlist will load after this ad

Hayden Marshall-Inman died in the eruption and his brother, Mark Inman, wants him back. Source: 1 NEWS

Two locals with extensive knowledge of the island and area are helping with the recovery operation's planning process, Mr Clement says, which Ms Turner supported.

"We're grateful to police for including local person on recovery team," she said, referring to pilot Mark Law.

"Once they are on the island, that clear knowledge on where to look will help save time and improve safety."

Another update is expected later today.

Mr Clement also praised those who raced to help evacuate the injured as heroes. There is a possibility they will be officially recognised and honoured in the future, he says.

Eight people are confirmed dead and eight others are presumed dead on the island.

More people are being treated in hospital, with most in a critical condition and battling severe burns.