Malaysian tourist among five people confirmed dead from White Island volcanic eruption

Eight people are missing, while five others have been confirmed dead, after White Island/Whakaari erupted off the Bay of Plenty yesterday. This concludes the morning/early afternoon updates, please click here for 1 NEWS' afternoon evening live updates.

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It’s believed eight people remain on the island and are presumed dead. Source: Breakfast

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It’s thought a total of 13 people have died following to eruption, with many more injured. Source: 1 NEWS

Key points

1.06pm: A new photo reveals the remnants of a helicopter that was left behind on White Island after the eruption.

Volcanic Air confirmed to 1 NEWS the helicopter is their Eurocopter Ecureuil, which took four people and a pilot to the island yesterday.

All four were in the lower group when the volcano erupted, and were safely evacuated by a tourist boat.

The helicopter was destroyed. In the photo, it can be seen to have moved off the helipad and is covered in a thick layer of volcanic dust.

12.47pm: One of the first responders says the scene was like something from a TV show.

"When we got there, it was quite an experience - it was what I've seen in the Chernobyl mini-series," Russell 'Rusty' Clark told 1 NEWS today.

"Everything was just blanketed in ash. It was quite an overwhelming feeling - there was a helicopter on the island that had obviously been there at the time and its rotor blades were off it."

Mr Clark is an intensive care paramedic for Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Click the link to watch the 1 NEWS interview with Russell 'Rusty' Clark.

12.26pm: US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown says they can't provide any specific information about US citizens affected by the eruption.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed this morning that tourists from the US were among those impacted, but did not specify whether they were injured, or among the dead or missing.

In a statement today, Mr Brown said they're providing all possible consular assistance to those affected.

"Our sincerest condolences to the families of those lost and injured in this tragedy," he says.

"Out of consideration for those involved, as well as privacy concerns, we cannot provide any specific information on US citizens that were affected by the eruption.

"We'd like to thank the very brave helicopter pilots and crews and other first responders who raced to evacuate people during the eruption and its aftermath."

Mr Brown says they remain in "close communication" with local authorities.

12.18pm: It's a sombre mood on board the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, docked at the Port of Tauranga.

ABC News journalist Donna Field is on the cruise with her family and told 1 NEWS she can't understand how the victims' families are feeling.

"They get that knock on the door of that cabin with that unthinkable news," she says.

"It's a really strange thing. You're on this ship with 500 other people, it's this party, holiday mode, and things just kind of subtly turn.

"I think everyone's kind of coming to terms with how someone's holiday has ended in such a tragic manner."

12.07pm: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made her way to Whakatāne Airport.

The road has been closed to the public and a neighbour told 1 NEWS today she understands the airport is being used as a temporary morgue.

She says the area has been very quiet today compared to yesterday, when numerous helicopters were there following the eruption.

She says only two flights have left today.

11.54am: White Island is still shooting out mud and steam from its vent, almost a day on from the eruption.

Volcanologist Dr Geoff Kilgour has just issued an update and says the volcanic alert remains at level three.

"Since the eruption, seismic activity has dropped to low levels and there has been no further eruptive activity," he says.

"However, we are still observing localised steam and mud jetting from the active vent area."

There's still a risk of another smaller or similar-sized eruption within the next 24 hours - about the same likelihood as there being no eruption.

But Dr Kilgour warns there's a high level of uncertainly with the estimates.

"We also estimate the least likely scenario is a larger eruption."

11.41am: At least one of the people confirmed dead is Malaysian, the High Commission confirms.

The Malaysian High Commission in Wellington says more details are being obtained as the investigation continues.

"We are working closely with the local authorities and will continue to update from time to time," it says.

"We would like to urge the public to contact us if they have information on any Malaysians being in the area."

11.38am: Police Minister Stuart Nash is defending the decision not to send rescue crews in to White Island last night.

"It was an extremely dangerous situation, volatile situation, they had no idea what they're dealing with and what they're doing is they're waiting for the right scientific and technical information before they can even think about going onto the island," he told media today.

He reiterated that when the police Eagle helicopter flew over the island last night, they saw "no sign of life whatsoever".

Several independent operators, including helicopters and boats, helped with the evacuation process yesterday.

Mr Nash praised them for their work, saying they did a "fantastic job under very dangerous circumstances".

"I take my hat off to them. True heroes."

11.24am: Dealing with the aftermath of the volcano is the first time Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust pilot James Tayler has been to an incident so big.

"It's pretty unusual to be have to be tasked to something this significant with this number of potential people in trouble," he told 1 NEWS today.

Helicopters were used to transport injured people to different hospitals and bring extra blood from Auckland to Whakatāne.

Mr Tayler says it's only afterwards, when they had time to debrief, that the enormity of what happened sunk in for the crew.

"When you're doing the job, you're focusing on doing the job, so you don't really think too much about the difficulties of it," he says.

He says the patients were in bad shape, covered in ash and "looking quite badly burnt".

11.15am: A rāhui is in place on White Island/Whakaari after the fatal eruption.

Ngāti Awa leader Pouroto Ngaropo says he performed the ceremony this morning, covering the island and the waters around it.

"The rāhui is going to protect the island, the ocean, those who are there, their families and all those who are carrying out important work at the moment," he told RNZ.

11.06am: National leader Simon Bridges will head to Whakatāne this afternoon "to provide support for those responding to the tragedy on White Island".

"I'm hearing incredible stories of bravery about Kiwis coming to the aid of those affected," he says,

He says his and his wife Natalie's thoughts are with all the families involved, as well as the emergency services and health workers.

"New Zealand is behind you."

11.02am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is meeting with some of the emergency services personnel who were working today and yesterday after the eruption.

She shook hands with each of them and spent several moments speaking to them individually, giving one paramedic a hug.

The meeting included paramedics and the police officers who were the first responders.

It comes after her visit to the local hospital earlier in the day, where she met some of the victims of the disaster.

10.37am: The Green Party says it's sending its love to the families of those affected by the White Island eruption.

"We are sending aroha to the families who have been devastated by the eruption at Te Puia o Whakaari," the party shared on Twitter, with an image of a green heart reading: "Arohanui".

"To the rescuers and medical staff working to keep everyone safe, we send a massive mihi. Kia kaha tātou."

10.29am: Ovation of the Seas will remain in port in Tauranga while it awaits more news from authorities, according to a journalist on board the cruise ship.

ABC News' Donna Field says the announcement was made by the captain.

Ovation of the Seas told 1 NEWS earlier today it's offering "all of [its] resources while this terrible tragedy sorts out".

9.53am: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the nation is grieving after yesterday's volcanic eruption at White Island.

"I fear there is worse news to come over the course of today or the next few days. This is a terrible tragedy," he told media this morning.

"A time of great innocence and joy interrupted by the horror of that operation."

A number are in a critical condition with severe burns, but Mr Morrison says the full details of everyone's conditions are not yet known.

The 24 Australians make up the majority of those visiting White Island yesterday, a day that "turned to horror", Mr Morrison says.

9.48am: Eight patients are currently being treated in Waikato Hospital.

All are in a critical condition, a spokesperson told 1 NEWS.

9.41am: Eleven Australians are unaccounted for after the volcano, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

He says they believe up to three of those already confirmed dead were from Australia.

Twenty-four Australians were visiting the island and 13 are currently in hospitals around New Zealand.

The Australian tourist group were aged between 17 and 72 years old.

9.30am: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is addressing media now. Watch live with 1 NEWS.

9.22am: GeoNet has temporarily removed its live-updating web camera from the White Island volcano crater.

Images are still being broadcast from the Whakatāne camera, which shows White Island in the distance and the smoke plume still visible.

"While rescue and response operations are underway, we are suspending the broadcast of our webcams on the volcano and removing the images of the moments before the eruption," GeoNet posted on its website.

"Our sympathies are with those families affected by the Whakaari/White Island eruption. Thank you for your understanding."

9.13am: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to address media at 9.30am.

Last night he said 24 Australians were visiting the island as part of a cruise ship tour, and Australians are included in the people who are unaccounted for.

9.06am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the disaster is "devastating" for not just the community, but all of New Zealand.

"We take such pride in making sure that all those who visit our nation are well cared for so I know we'll all be feeling that, but particularly obviously Whakatāne," she told Breakfast's John Campbell.

"We want to make sure that first people who have confirmation around what has happened to their loved ones are family members, so that's a focus here on the ground."

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The Prime Minister talked about the loss to New Zealand, as well as those overseas affected by the explosions. Source: Breakfast

8.53am: An Ovations of the Seas spokesperson has thanked the Prime Minister and local authorities after the White Island eruption, calling it a "tragedy".

"The news from White Island is devastating. The details that are emerging are heartbreaking," she told 1 NEWS.

She says they're working to help their guests and authorities in the aftermath in any way they can.

"We are communicating with our guests and their families. We’re making sure they are taken care of in terms of medical help, counselling, accommodations, and transport. Our hearts go out to them, and we want to be as supportive as we can.

"Staff from our Sydney and Auckland offices office are already onsite, and we’re going to be offering all our resources while this terrible tragedy sorts out.

"We are grateful for the work of all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime minister and her team, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind thoughts and prayers."

The cruise ship remains docked as not all of its passengers have returned.

Concerned family are urged to call the following numbers:

  • Australia – 1-300-026-240
  • New Zealand – 0800-002141
  • USA – 800 829 4050
  • Germany 0800-180-0885
  • UK 0-800-014-8339
  • Mexico 01-800-681-5336
  • China 400-120-3534
  • Japan 0800-170-6282
  • Singapore 65-31582855

8.45am: A newly-wed couple from the US are among those seriously injured, according to US media.

Barbara Barham told the Washing Post today that her daughter Lauren Urey and husband Matthew were in New Zealand for their honeymoon.

They told Ms Barham they had plans to visit an active volcano but weren't worried about eruptions, the Washington Post reports.

"[Mr Urey] said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult [because of the burns]," Ms Barharm said.

"I don’t know how to act. I feel like I should be crying, but I can’t even cry."

The couple are from Richmond, Virginia.

An image of White Island taken from the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter after the eruption on December 9, 2019. Source: Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters

8.39am: Volcanic activity has died down but there's still a lot of uncertainty, GNS volcanologist Dr Geoff Kilgour says.

"[It's been] quite a short time since the eruption and what we're really concerned with is what happens next," he told Breakfast this morning.

"These types of eruptions, this kind of bursting event, could lead into something else, so we're going to make a gas flight this afternoon to see what kind of gases are coming out of the volcano.

"That really helps us to determine what's happening next."

Dr Kilgour says the information could be useful for when recovery operations might be underway.

8.26am: East Coast MP Anne Tolley says it's a "tragic time here in Whakatāne".

"Our thoughts are with the families of all who are affected," she wrote on Twitter.

"Our thanks go to our heroic first responders and the staff of White Island Tours who risked their own lives to save visitors to Whakaari."

8.22am: White Island Tours chairman Paul Quinn says they take their health and safety responsibilities seriously, taking more than 10,000 people to the island each year.

"We take our steer from GNS on [volcanic warnings]," he told Breakfast's John Campbell.

"They send us reports as to what the activity levels are and if in fact it is deemed safe, which is level two - which it was yesterday - the next step in that process is the weather, we make those decisions.

"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."

The warning level yesterday was level two, which Mr Quinn says is business-as-usual for them. He says he's never seen as sudden or dramatic of an eruption as happened yesterday. 

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

The lowest level is one, but Mr Quinn says they'll routinely take people out on level two.

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

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

8.16am: A White Island tour guide company is grieving after the volcanic eruption, with two of its employees still missing.

In an emotional interview with Breakfast's John Campbell, White Island Tours chairman Paul Quinn said they're still working with the response team to "find out where they are".

"It's a big tragedy, unfortunately, for us."

Mr Quinn says they're working to support all their staff and clients.

"We'll be meeting at the wharenui later with all the staff and the wider whanau that have been involved in the process."

White Islands Tours is an iwi business, owned fully by Ngāti Awa Holdings.

8.09am: One of the victims has been identified as Hayden Inman, a tour guide from Whakatāne.

His brother paid tribute to him in a Facebook post, saying away Mr Inman had "[passed] away doing the one thing he loved".

In a 2013 article with the NZ Herald, Mr Inman said White Island "could be one of the great wonders of the world".

"You get to walk right up close to a volcano - one of the most spectacular things mother nature has created," he said.

"I've been out to the island more than 300 times and I still enjoy going out each day."

Police have told 1 NEWS they are not in any position to confirm the names of the deceased at this stage and while names would be released proactively, it "most likely would not happen today".

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The brother of Hayden Marshall-Inman confirmed his death on Facebook. Source: Breakfast

8.04am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is firm that authorities are now undertaking a recovery effort, not a rescue effort.

As well as aerial reconnaissance, she says one person landed and investigated the island on foot.

Just after midnight, police said there was "no sign of life".

"It is, sadly, a recovery operation," Ms Ardern says.

7.55am: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he's been in touch with Jacinda Ardern to express their deepest sympathies.

"There are many people still feared missing, and my heart goes out to all those affected and their families," he wrote on Twitter.

7.51am: Two British women are among those in hospital after the eruption.

Laura Clarke, British High Commissioner to New Zealand, says her team is deploying to offer assistance to their families and they remain in contact with local authorities.

"We will do all we can to help any other Brits who need our help," she says.

7.47am: "For now, our duty is to return loved ones." That's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's message after the White Island eruption.

"To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment in time… we grieve with you," she said this morning.

Authorities say they can't go to the island yet, where eight people remain missing and are presumed dead, because there's a risk of further eruptions.

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The Prime Minister and authorities gave this 7am update from Whakatane. Source: Breakfast

7.38am: Two separate groups were on the island when it erupted.

One group was near the crater at the time, while the other was further out, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning.

While 39 people were rescued and evacuated from the island, eight people remain missing and are presumed dead.

Five people have been confirmed dead so far.

7.14am: Rescuers who leaped into action immediately after the eruption were "incredibly courageous", Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

The situation was still volatile with risks of further eruptions when several helicopters made their way to the island.

A Westpac Rescue helicopter successfully landed and was able to help evacuate people.

"They made an incredibly brave decision," Ms Ardern says.

Boats in the area also helped evacuate people.

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

7.04am: Eight people have been confirmed missing, believed dead, after the White Island eruption, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Kiwis were on the island at the time of the eruption as well as tourists from Australia, the US, UK, China and Malaysia.

Forty-seven people were on the island at the time of the eruption. Thirty-one are still in hospital while three have been discharged.

Five people have been confirmed dead. It's believed anyone still on the island is also dead.

When asked if there was anywhere on the island survivors could have taken shelter, Ms Ardern had a blunt response.