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'It's a big tragedy for us' - White Island Tours chairman says iwi-owned business missing two employees

The chairman of the tour company who takes up to 18,000 people a year to White Island says his company is grieving for two employees who are still missing, presumed dead, following yesterday's eruption.

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Paul Quinn told Breakfast's John Campbell the company is working with response teams to find the pair. Source: Breakfast

Paul Quinn told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning two of their own from White Island Tours were part of the eight still unaccounted for and the Ngāti Awa Holdings-owned company were working with the response team to find them.

"We're supporting the staff and the clients and the manuhiri [guests] we had on the boat," Mr Quinn said.

"That's our main priority at this stage - to bring that support. We'll be meeting at the wharenui later with all the staff and the wider whanau that have been involved in the process.

"This is a big tragedy, unfortunately, for us."

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The death toll is expected to rise with around 24 people thought to be on the island. Source: Breakfast

Mr Quinn said the company have practices in place to decide when it's unsafe to travel to the volcano and yesterday was no different.

"In the normal course of events, we'd actually make that call [not to travel] the night before, and that principally and invariably is around the weather," Mr Quinn said.

"But the overlay, of course, of that is on the volcanic activity on the island and we take our steer from GNS on that.

"They send us reports as to what the activity levels are and if in fact it is deemed safe - which is a level two which it was yesterday - the next step is the weather and then we make our choices from there."

Mr Quinn reiterated while level two was not the lowest level of volcanic activity, it is still considered a safe degree to operate and visit White Island under.

"It's been level two for about a week, as I understand it," he said.

Immediately after the eruption the volcanic warning was raised to four, and has since been lowered to three for today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning authorities are undertaking a recovery effort, not a rescue mission, after no signs of life were detected by police overnight.