'It's a body blow' - Unsuccessful recovery mission returns from Whakaari/White Island

Police have confirmed that today’s recovery mission did not locate either of the two bodies missing since Monday’s eruption.

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Police search teams were sent to the island this morning to investigate an area of interest. Source: 1 NEWS

The team of eight Search and Rescue staff returned by helicopter to the mainland around 10.30am.

Deputy Commissioner National Operations Mike Clement said the team was sent to investigate an “area of interest” where the two remaining bodies were said to have been last seen on Monday. The area of interest extends from a stream in a ravine that flows towards the sea.

Mr Clement said the team’s search of the area “has been done to an extent”.

“I don’t know to what extent because I have to debrief the staff that have been involved."

Mr Clement said the area around the ravine was “pretty gluggy” due to sediment. This followed Monday night’s rain.

He said police were still interested in the area in case bodies were in the sediment. He did not believe the bodies would be anywhere outside of the area of interest.

Body recovery team in decontamination process after searching for two missing bodies on Whakaari/White Island after the volcano erupted on Monday 9 Dec Source: 1 NEWS

There was “every chance” the second body was near the first body seen in the water earlier in the week, he said. Police were unable to retrieve this body because of the conditions.

Mr Clement said while police were still “deeply committed” still to get bodies back, today’s outcome was a blow to the families.

"It is a body blow for us and we're confident it's a body blow for the families who are still waiting."

Dive searches are also continuing until authorities are sure the area is clear of bodies.

The next steps towards the recovery of the bodies will be determined after a debrief with the staff who were on the island today, Mr Clement said.

He said activity at the volcano had “come off its highs” and gas levels, subject to confirmation with testing, remained low.

“Those things in combination made us content that the police staff who are trained in rescue … can swap defence staff out.”

Two teams of four Search and Rescue and Disaster Victim Identification staff were taken to the island by helicopter around 8.30am.

They wore the same protective clothing as the previous recovery team, however their breathing apparatus was different and meant they could only stay on the island for up to 75 minutes. The recovery team went through a medical assessment and was showered down after returning to the mainland to make sure they were not carrying anything that could be harmful.

GNS said today levels of volcanic tremor remained low overnight. 

"Since the eruption on Monday, there has been no further significant eruptive activity. On Friday evening the volcanic tremor dropped significantly and has remained at low levels," GNS said.

However, GNS said high heat flow is still present in the active vent area. An active crater is emitting volcanic gas at high temperatures.

An aerial observation of the active vent area in Whakaari/White Island. Source: GeoNet

"The latest visual observations confirm that magma is degassing at shallow depths and the situation remains highly volatile."