WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - Specialist teams were due to return to New Zealand's volcanic White Island on Sunday to resume a land search for the bodies of two victims of an eruption that has now claimed 15 lives.
Two four-person teams wearing protective clothing and using breathing apparatuses were to land on the island by helicopter early in the morning in the hope of finding the two bodies that have not been located since the island erupted December 9.
``They will be wearing the same protective clothing as the eight New Zealand Defence Force personnel who were on the island on Friday,” Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said. ``However, their breathing apparatus will be different, meaning they will only be able to stay on the island for up to 75 minutes.
``We remain committed to finishing the task at hand and returning the two remaining bodies to their loved ones," he added.
While scientists said the possibility of a second eruption appeared to have receded, White Island remained ``highly volatile.”
Police said the toll from the eruption had risen to 15 with the death in a hospital on Saturday night of a severely burned victim.
For the first time, police released the name of one of the dead. She was Krystal Browitt, 21, a veterinary nursing student from Melbourne, Australia.
Military specialists on Friday recovered six bodies from the island in a carefully planned but risky operation. The bodies of the two other people known to have been on the island could not be located during the four-hour operation.
Police divers working in near-zero visibility in contaminated waters around the island tried again Saturday to find the missing pair. Ash and other fallout from the eruption has made the sea near the island toxic, and divers must be washed clean after every completed dive. Tims called search conditions ``unique and challenging.”
``Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water. Conditions in the water today are not optimal, with between zero and 2 meters visibility, depending on location,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on New Zealanders to observe a minute's silence in memory of victims of the disaster at 2:11 p.m. on Monday, exactly a week after the eruption. Ardern and her Cabinet will pause in silence during their regular meeting at Parliament in Wellington.
``Wherever you are in New Zealand or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy,`` Ardern said. ``Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt and our support for their grieving families and friends."