Twenty-five people remain critically injured after White Island tragedy

Six people are now confirmed dead after a volcano eruption at Whakaari/White Island on Monday, with eight others missing and presumed dead on the island. Relive 1 NEWS' morning/early afternoon updates below. Click here for the latest updates

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1 NEWS reporter Katie Stevenson has this midday, December 11 update. Source: 1 NEWS

Key points

  • Whakaari/White Island erupted at 2.11pm on Monday.
  • Six people are confirmed dead. Eight people are missing and presumed dead, with six bodies seen on the island.
  • 47 people were on the island when it erupted. 30 are still in hospital and three have been discharged.
  • Rescue services have been unable to reach the island so far, due to risks of further eruptions.
  • Missing persons can be reported on the Red Cross's Family Links website

1.30pm: 1 NEWS takes a look at the history of White Island, which has seen disaster strike in the past.

1.02pm: Seismic activity on White Island has "increased quite dramatically" since about 4am this morning, GNS volcanologist Brad Scott says.

"From what we're seeing from our web cameras, we're seeing gas jetting, big explosions occurring on a regular basis from the active vent area," he told 1 NEWS.

Likelihood of an eruption is still moderately high, he says - "a 50-50 chance".

12.51pm: A fundraiser for the family of victim Hayden Marshall-Inman has now passed its $6000 goal.

The GoFundMe was set up by a family friend, to help Mr Marshall-Inman's sister, brother-in-law and nephews travel to Whakatāne from Vancouver.

12.40pm: There are media reports of "107 people" and "eight missing". Here's what both those numbers mean.

Forty-seven people were on the island when it erupted. Eight of those did not return, whether injured or deceased. It's believed all are dead and remain on the island. Those are the "eight missing".

The Red Cross Family Links website functions by inviting people to record who they haven't been able to make contact with. Not all of those people were on the island, nor were they all left behind. This is the list which forms the "107 missing people" report.

Some of the people reported missing will be in hospital, unidentified.

Even as these people are identified and found, being removed from the "missing people" list, it does not reduce or impact the number of people missing on the island - which remains at eight.

It's likely there is some crossover between the two classifications of missing persons, of people remaining on the island who are yet unidentifed.

12.26pm: Don't use the Family Links website as an official missing persons' list, the Red Cross warns.

The website is user-generated and not formally maintained, meaning it's not "necessarily accurate", a spokesperson says.

It's designed for people such as concerned family and friends, or people wishing to mark themselves as safe, to submit their information.

"Official information on persons affected is managed by New Zealand Police. All questions related to people potentially affected by this disaster should be directed to New Zealand Police. New Zealand Red Cross cannot discuss confidential information with any person."

Anyone who has submitted to the website is urged to make sure they keep it up to date, especially if they've reported someone as missing then later made contact with them.

12.09pm: GeoNet has shared a video explaining the different volcanic warning levels in New Zealand.

Level 0 is when there are no volcanic hazards. Level 1 is minor unrest and potential for earthquakes or volcanic gases.

Level 2 is moderate unrest, with some activity on the volcano contained within the crater and potential for an eruption. Level 3 is a minor volcanic eruption, affecting just the area around the active volcanic vent.

Level 4 is a moderate volcanic eruption, with hazards extending past the active crater and onto the flanks of the volcano. Level 5 is a major volcanic eruption with significant hazards on the volcano, and can affect nearby communities.

White Island was at level 2 before the eruption, then immediately raised to level 4 afterwards. It later dropped to level 3, where it has remained since.
White Island Tours told Breakfast yesterday that level 2 is business-as-usual for them,

12.00pm: In case you missed it - watch the joint press conference with Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall and Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird.

11.32am: British people travelling in New Zealand are urged to contact their friends and family and let them know they're safe.

Two British women were injured in the eruption.

Today the British High Commission in New Zealand says it's supporting them and encourages other travellers to reach out to their friends and family to let them know they're safe and well.

11.26am: Twenty-five people are still in a critical condition after the eruption, while another five are in a stable but serious condition, police say.

Most of the injured patients suffered severe burns.

The 30 people are in hospitals around New Zealand - Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Auckland City, Tauranga, Waikato and Christchurch.

11.17am: White Island Tours says they've offered their boats, personnel and equipment to police and the Civil Defence to help support the recovery mission.

Daily karakia are being held to help staff and affected families "come together in our grief", chair Paul Quinn says.

"For Ngāti Awa (tangata whenua of Whakatāne) our responsibility to provide care for our people and visitors during this difficult time is foremost in our minds and actions.

"We are focused on wrapping the necessary support around affected families and staff, all of whom are understandably distraught."

Support packages are being put together today to help overseas families who are arriving in Whakatāne, Mr Quinn says, including "practical and useful items" for them.

11.01am: White Island is still rumbling away, according to GeoNet's latest update, and further eruptions "are still likely to occur".

It's still at alert level 3 but volcanic tremor "has significantly increased" this morning, volcanologist Craig Miller says.

"The situation remains highly uncertain as to future activity. Eruptions in the next 24 hours are still likely to occur."

Results from a gas flight yesterday afternoon are still being analysed.

10.57am: What you need to know from the joint coroner-police press conference

A "significant operation" has begun to identify and recover the victims.  When questioned, Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird clarified that does not mean they've begun a recovery operation at the island.

It's been declared "mass fatality incident" has been declared by the Chief Coroner.

Identification of those killed will be an extensive process, including investigation of the scene at White Island.

Multiple agencies are working together and following the international standards for identification.

Authorities still haven't returned to the island and reiterate they won't do so until they are absolutely sure no one will be in danger.

Most of the bodies will be taken to the Auckland mortuary, but if there are any further deaths in hospital this may not be necessary as the cause of death will be recorded in hospital and the victim may already be identified.

The six confirmed dead have been taken to Auckland and post-mortems are underway.

"We will be working as hard as we can to return deceased to their whanau," Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall says.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird says they're very confident no one is left alive on the island, citing witness statements.

10.41am: The press conference has ended very abruptly, with both Acting Assistant Comisssioner Bruce Bird and Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall walking out in the middle of the final question to Ms Marshall.

No explanation was given.

10.39: A reporter has drawn comparisons to the Pike River disaster and the possibility trapped people were still alive after the first explosion, before being killed in the second.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird says that's not the case here.

"We're pretty satisfied that every person on that island was not alive at the time," he says, citing witness statements from the rescue helicopters staff and other witness statements.

"We cannot put other people in jeopardy to go out there until we're absolutely certain the island is safe."

10.35am: Acting Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird clarifies they have not begun an effort to recover the eight people from White Island.

"We're working up the plan on how we'd actually go about and do that," he says.

"We've got to be certain of the environmental situation on the island... We can make some decisions once we've got all of that information.

"Safety is a huge priority for us and we've got to get this right."

10.30am: Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird confirms a "significant operation" to identify and recover those lost has begun.

10.29am: Watch live as authorities give the latest update on the White Island eruption tragedy.

10.19am: Media are gathering for the 10.30am press conference at the Whakatāne Council building.

1 News will be live streaming this online and update will be provided in this live updates article.

Media gather for the joint press conference with Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall and Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird. Source: 1 NEWS

9.56am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed recovery teams hope to access the volcano today.

She told Reuters emergency response officials would meet on Wednesday morning to "again start that process to try and get all information to make those decisions as quickly as possible".

9.50am: Flowers and tributes are being put up at Whakatāne wharf.

The tributes include hand-made cards and posters.

Part of the wharf has been blocked off by a chain-link fence, with some people weaving flowers and bouquets through it.

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Bouquets of flowers are being weaved into a chain-link fence cordoning off the wharf. Source: 1 NEWS

9.36am: Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall and Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird will speak to media in Whakatāne at 10.30am.

1 NEWS will be live streaming the press conference online and we'll have updates in this article as they come to hand.

9.28am: The police Deodar III boat has landed near White Island, according to a live shiptracker.

The HMNZS Wellington remains offshore the island.

9.05am: A fundraiser for the family of victim Hayden Marshall-Inman has raised nearly $3000 so far.

His sister Renee Radmacker lives in Vancouver, according to the GoFundMe page, with her husband and three sons.

A friend of the family created the fundraiser and posted an appeal for help on her Facebook page.

"Renee lives in Canada and obviously the cost to fly her and her family back to nz will be considerable. Please help out in any way you can," she wrote.

The family are now travelling to Whakatāne.  

9.01am: Police say they'll address media in Whakatāne at 10.30am. We'll have the latest updates for you out of the press conference.

8.52am: Comparisons with the handling of the Pike River tragedy aren't really fair, Breakfast's John Campbell says.

"That was always the frustrating thing for me about Pike River, was that in the days [between explosions], people were saying that yes, it is safe to go in, and we will go in. The first responders at that scene were saying, 'Yes, we are prepared to go in'."

Hayley Holt agreed, adding that it was the mine rescue teams who were prepared to go in but they were stopped by police.

However in this situation, the first responders are the ones saying it's not yet safe to go.

"You've got to listen to them. It's them that are putting their lives at risk," Matty McLean says, earning a vehement "Hell yes" from Campbell.

8.41am: A thick plume of smoke can still be seen rising from White Island.

A Breakfast camera captured a shot from Whakatāne, with host John Campbell adding it's the "clearest it's been" this morning.

A thick plume of smoke can still be seen rising from Whakaari/White Island, two days on from the eruption. Source: 1 NEWS

8.29am: Australian and New Zealand cricket players will be banding together before their Test in Perth tomorrow to pay tribute to the eruption victims.

Black Caps coach Gary Stead says the tragedy "put things into perspective" for the team.

"It is a game and all we're playing is a game. And when you hear about lives lost and something tragic like that, it's devastating to hear. It's terrible to hear, and you don't wish that upon anyone."

The finer details for the tribute are still being worked out.

Read More
Black Caps, Australia to band together for White Island tribute - 'It puts a Test into huge perspective'

8.07am: With reports people were still alive on the island, a team of doctors made the bold call to jump into action, land and set up a triage centre on the still-erupting volcano.

"It's clearly an incident that's going to be etched on our memories forever," Dr Tony Smith told Breakfast this morning.

"We're used to seeing some very seriously injured people, but not on this scale. The scale, the sheer number of people, the extent of their injuries, the extent of their burns, was something that we as a country have not experienced before."

Before they landed, they had several contingency plans including possibly evacuating the island if needed, Dr Smith says.

But hopes of survivors quickly faded.

"It was very clear from looking at them that they were dead."

7.54am: Helicopter pilot James Tayler spoke to Breakfast this morning about being one of the first responders in Whakatāne.

People had "significant injuries" including burns and wounds from falling debris, as well as suffering from smoke inhalation, he says.

"Some people were pretty badly burnt early on."

Mr Tayler was one of the people who made the call to send their helicopter crews to help, and is supportive of retrieving the remaining bodies "if it's safe to do so".

"It's something the families really need for closure, to get the bodies, I think as soon as it's safe to do so people will be very keen to go and do that and help where they can."

He rejects comments calling the pilots "heroes", saying: "Not really, I'm just doing a job."

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James Tayler spoke to TVNZ 1’s Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

7.26am: The HMNZS Wellington remains offshore of White Island, while police's Deodar III vessel has also left from Tauranga this morning and is almost at the island.

A five-nautical mile exclusion zone remains in place around the island for all boaties. 

7.14am: People still ski at Mt Ruapehu when it’s at the same warning level as White Island was, National leader Simon Bridges says.

The volcanic alert was raised several weeks ago to level two, and tours continued through that time.

On Breakfast this morning, Mr Bridges pointed out Mt Ruapehu - also an active volcano - still operates at the same warning level as well.

"We shouldn't be cavalier about it, we should be following what GNS says, but people do want to do these things and have been doing them for a hundred of years."

Yesterday White Island Tours chair Paul Quinn told Breakfast they work closely with GNS Science when it comes to the warning levels, and a level two warning remains business-as-usual for them. Two of its team are among those missing, presumed dead, on the island.

7.02am: The Ovation of the Seas cruise ship is leaving Tauranga now after staying to help authorities.

On Monday night, the captain made an announcement over the speakers that many people didn't return to the boat after the eruption.

It postponed its departure to help with authorities but has now taken off this morning.

It's heading to Wellington and Picton, and it was announced yesterday the planned cruise itinerary has been truncated. 

A team from the cruise ship company remain on the site and at the hospitals to ensure people are supported.

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The ship left Tauranga this morning without a number of passengers who were killed or injured in the White Island/ Whakaari eruption. Source: 1 NEWS

6.53am: Post-mortems of the people who died will be carried out in Auckland today.

Dr Pete Watson, chief medical officer for Counties Manukau DHB, says of those injured, 27 have suffered surface burns to more than 30 percent of their body.

"This is really large in terms of the pressure it's putting on our units," he told 1 NEWS.

"It is possible not all of the patients will survive… We're doing all we can and we are confident in the expertise we have."

Burns units across the country are filled to capacity treating the injured.

6.36am: Authorities may attempt a recovery effort today, trying to retrieve the bodies from the island, 1 NEWS understands.

It's been too dangerous over the last few days for emergency services to head back to the island.

6.28am: In case you missed it - police announced they would launch a criminal investigation last night, before backtracking just hours later.

Deputy commissioner of operations John Tims announced the criminal investigation at a media conference yesterday.

Then later that evening, police said it was too early to confirm there would be a criminal probe.

Instead there will be an investigation on behalf of the coroner, carried out parallel to a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.

6.16am: Cruise ship Ovation of the Seas is set to depart from Tauranga port at 6.45am.

Most of the people on the island were on a tour from the cruise ship at the time.

The ship delayed its departure by a day and will now take off without those injured passengers, continuing to Wellington and Picton.

5.29am: Six people are now confirmed dead after the eruption. 

A person died from their injuries in Middlemore Hospital yesterday, police confirmed late last night.

Thirty people remain in hospitals around the country, the majority of them suffering severe burns.