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New Zealand to Send Crews to Recover Bodies from Volcanic Island

In this image made from video, an injured tourist in the volcano eruption is carried to an Australian Air Force plane in Hamilton, New Zealand, Dec. 12, 2019.

New Zealand officials now say they will send crews to White Island on Friday to recover the bodies of eight people killed in Monday's volcanic eruption.

Authorities had been holding off on sending search crews to retrieve the bodies because of the volcano's continued instability. Seismologists with New Zealand's GeoNet seismic monitoring agency said Wednesday there remains a 40-to-60 percent chance of another major eruption. Poisonous gas continues to vent out of the volcano's crater and the island is covered in acidic ash.

The death toll rose Wednesday to eight, as two more victims who had been rescued from the island after the eruption died in hospital. At least 27 survivors suffered burns over more than 71 percent of their bodies; of that number, 22 are on airway support due to the severity of their burns. Health officials have said they need an extra 1.2 million square centimeters of skin to provide grafts for the victims.

Authorities say about 47 people were touring the island at the time of the eruption, including 24 Australians, with the rest from the United States, Britain, Germany, China, Malaysia and New Zealand. Some of the victims were passengers from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean.

Australia has sent at least one military aircraft to New Zealand to bring 12 victims back to Australia for treatment.

GeoNet raised the volcano's alert level last month to Level Two on the five-level scale that monitors its chances of eruption. Still pictures captured by a GeoNet camera installed along the volcano's crater showed a group of tourists walking on the crater floor moments before the eruption.

Police have launched an investigation in connection with the disaster.

White Island, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, sits about 50 kilometers northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, and attracts about 10,000 visitors every year. It is New Zealand's most active cone volcano, with about 70 percent of the island under the sea.