'Further survivors unlikely' after White Island volcano eruption, police say

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

Five people have been confirmed dead after White Island/Whakaari erupted off the Bay of Plenty yesterday. Police say it's unlikely more people will rescued alive. We'll bring you the latest developments throughout the day in these live updates.

Key points

  • White Island/Whakaari erupted at 2.11pm yesterday.
  • Five people are confirmed dead, with more fatalities likely.
  • It's feared around 24 people could still be on the island but police say 'further survivors' are unlikely.
  • Rescue services have been unable to reach the island so far, due to risks of further eruptions.

7.03am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is addressing media now.

6.58am: Some Australian commentators have criticised the New Zealand authorities' decision to call off the rescue operation last night.

Up to 24 Australians are thought to have been on White Island at the time of the eruption, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

1 NEWS Australian Correspondent Ryan Boswell says there's been condemnation from some right-wing commentators who say New Zealand should have moved quicker and there are questions as to why they haven't.

New Zealand authorities previously said conditions on the island are still very unstable and further eruptions are possible.

6.55am: A skydiver who was in the air when the volcano erupted could see the plume of smoke and ash from 90 kilometres away.

Tristram Webb, from SkyDive Tauranga, was tandem-skydiving at the time of the eruption.

"You could just see the plume developing rather rapidly. In the space of about 45 seconds... it had grown... into a huge cloud that had almost enveloped the island completely," he told Breakfast this morning.

"It's something we've never seen before at this skydiving centre."

He says they didn't know it had erupted at the time.

"At the time we were just in awe of what we'd witnessed during the skydive... It's turned out to be far more tragic."

6.45am: Ash can be seen shrouding the island in video footage sent to 1 NEWS by the Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust. 

In the video the helicopter circles the island, unable to land due to fears of further eruptions.

6.28am: Eighteen patients from the eruption were taken to hospitals around the country overnight, St John district operations manager Stu Cockburn says.

Only a few hospitals can take patients with severe burns and critical injuries.

Mr Cockburn told Breakfast's John Campbell people were taken to Hutt Hospital and Middlemore Hospital, the main centres for treating burns.

"We've been working through the night to transport people and we're still working on that."

Four people are now at Middlemore Hospital, all in a critical condition.

6.14am: The White Island eruption was a "tragedy on every level", Breakfast's John Campbell says.

Appearing live from Whakatāne, Campbell says tens of thousands of tourists will have visited the Bay of Plenty island.

One of those confirmed dead is a local tour guide and visitors from cruise ship Ovation of the Seas were also visiting at the time of the eruption.

6.11am: Rescue authorities are hoping they can get onto the island at some point today.

Risks of further eruptions made it too dangerous for anyone to go yesterday, police say.

Breakfast's John Campbell is at Whakatāne and says the NZDF drones will be flying through the plume of ash for further investigation.

No one will be landing until they're certain lives won't be at risk, he says.

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Breakfast's John Campbell has this Tuesday morning update from Whakatāne. Source: Breakfast

6.05am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she'll address media in Whakatāne this morning.

She's set to speak at 7am and will appear on TVNZ1's Breakfast later in the morning.

5.42am: A cruise ship company whose guests were on the island says they're devastated by the news.

Tourists were visiting from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean Cruise' Jonathon Fishman says they're working with local authorities and offering medical resources and counselling to their guests and their families.

"We are devastated by today's events and our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy.

"Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as long as needed to assist with the situation."

5.34am: One of those confirmed killed was a Whakatāne local.

Former Mayor Tony Bonne confirmed to 1 NEWS the person was a tour guide for the island.

5.00am: It's unlikely more people will rescued alive from White Island/Whakaari after the volcano erupted yesterday afternoon.

Five people have died so far and it's believed up to 24 people may still remain on the Bay of Plenty island.

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'Further survivors unlikely' after White Island volcano eruption, police say

Several air searches by the police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter and NZDF aircraft found no signs of life, police say.

"Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation," a spokesperson says.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island."

An NZDF ship will head to the island at first light to deploy drones and other observational equipment.

Police say they're not sure exactly how many people remained on the island.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says 24 Australian citizens were on the island at the time of eruption. It's not known how many of those were rescued or have died.