Bodies recovered from NZ volcano

A photo provided by Lillani Hopkins shows a volcanic eruption on White Island, New Zealand. Photo: via AAP
A photo provided by Lillani Hopkins shows a volcanic eruption on White Island, New Zealand. Photo: via AAP

UP to 15 Australian citizens and residents appear to have died from Monday’s volcanic eruption in New Zealand, as six bodies have been retrieved from the ash-covered White Island.

The six bodies are yet to be identified, with New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern dismissing Australian foreign minister Marise Payne’s earlier suggestion that all will be confirmed as Australian.

“That simply will not be the case … that won’t simply be accurate,” Ms Ardern said in Whakatane on Friday.

“Now there’s a process to work through to make sure there’s certainty that the families absolutely deserve.”

Senator Payne had said authorities told her the six bodies were all expected to be Australian.

Ms Payne’s comments caused consternation in Whakatane, where the families of missing White Island Tours guides Tipene Maangi and Hayden Inman read them to mean their bodies were still unaccounted for.

Mr Maangi and Mr Hayden were the two New Zealanders in a group of eight people that police believe were killed and trapped on Whakaari in Monday’s eruption.

The other six are all Australian; Brisbane woman Julie Richards and her university student daughter Jessica; Coffs Harbour couple Richard Elzer and Karla Matthews; Melbourne woman Krystal Browitt and Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15.

New Zealand defence personnel continued their mission to retrieve the two remaining bodies until late afternoon on Friday, without success.

While those eight victims perished in the heat, ash and toxic gases that enveloped the island following Monday’s eruption, three other Australians lost their fight for life in New Zealand hospitals.

Most of those who survived are now back home under the care of Australian specialists.

Their battle is not over, with many still listed as critical.

Eleven have been transferred to hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne. At least two more survivors are expected to be flown home within 24 hours, while one will remain in hospital in New Zealand.

Senator Payne has given a sense of the darkness families are experiencing as they wait for the formal identification of the dead, and come to terms with the horrible nature of survivors’ injuries.

“It is almost inconceivable to try to imagine how they are dealing with such catastrophic injuries for those whose loved ones have survived this event,” she told reporters on Friday.

Australian Federal Police have gone to New Zealand to aid the formal identification of victims. In the days ahead, Australia will have to contend with the return of bodies.

Some grieving relatives had attended a small blessing service near White Island on Friday morning, as the dramatic and risky search for bodies played out.

Information from families and friends indicate 10 Australians have been confirmed dead or presumed dead, while fears are held for five more.

Sydney high school students and brothers Berend, 16, and Matthew Hollander, 13 and Coffs Harbour man Jason Griffiths died in hospital with horrific burns, while the death of Adelaide man Gavin Dallow, 53, was confirmed on Wednesday.

Fears are held for Berend and Matthew Hollander’s parents Martin and Barbara Hollander, while Sydney couple Anthony and Kristine Langford, and their daughter Winona, 17, are missing.

Family have indicated the Langfords’ son Jesse, 19, survived.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, however, has said 11 citizens are dead or missing, presumed dead, and three permanent residents are dead or missing, presumed dead.

– AAP