Body recovery at Whakaari/White Island under way today

An attempt will be made to recover all eight bodies from Whakaari/White Island today. There is still seismic activity on the island but it appears to have settled a little. Geonet still say there is a significant chance of another eruption and have declared the area a red zone.

Defence Force helicopters have taken off and headed towards Whakaari this morning.

From the Police last night: Whakaari/White Island recovery operation

Statement from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement

Tomorrow morning we have a plan, the resources and the capability to the recover the bodies on Whakaari / White Island.

The plan is contingent on a number of risk factors which will be assessed at the time. These factors include the conditions on the island and the weather.

Tomorrow morning New Zealand Defence Force assets and people with specialist capabilities from Defence, Police and other agencies will undertake the operation. Returning the bodies on the island to their loved ones remains our focus.

We have the right people with the right skills and the right equipment.

We will make every effort to recover all of the bodies however our plan is subject to things beyond our control such as the island and the weather.

A lot has to go right for us tomorrow to make this work.

There is no zero risk option in regard to the plan but we have carefully considered it. We don’t expect the risk to change tonight or tomorrow but we have planned for it.

RNZ: Police plan to recover bodies tomorrow morning

Police say the plan to recover the bodies from Whakaari / White Island tomorrow morning will take several hours, and still carries a lot of risk.

Shortly after first light tomorrow, NZ Defence Force assets with specialised equipment will go on to the island and make every effort to recover the bodies, Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said.

Police have not yet returned to the island to retrieve any bodies there as it has been deemed too dangerous.

At the same time, the risks have increased, with GNS Science late morning raising its forecast likelihood of a major eruption from 40-50 percent, to 50-60 percent in the next 24 hours.

Clement told media in Whakatāne this evening that it was still a risky operation and police had to be very cautious.

He said he expected the mission it to take several hours, “the balance of the morning” and police did not expect anything to change overnight in terms of risk.

“The risk has not gone,” he said.

He said GNS scientists would be part of the team, not going on to the island but going out on the HMNZS Wellington ship to provide analysis and support.

As well as the ship, there would be helicopters involved and specialist staff. He said the technical decisions on the ground would belong to the New Zealand Defence Force, and their plans had been designed to change depending on circumstances.

The plan is for the remains to be helicoptered onto the navy ship Wellington, which is waiting close by the island, and shipped back to Auckland.

Geonet (5:00 pm Thursday): Whakaari/White Island eruption: Update #7

Volcanic tremor remains high, however no further eruptions have occurred since Monday 9 December. There is a medium likelihood (50-60%) of future eruptive activity in the next 24 hours. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 2.

Since the eruption on Monday, there has been no further eruptive activity. In the last few hours, volcanic tremor has decreased but it is still very high compared to normal levels. Vigorous steam and mud bursts continue from the active vent area.

The combined interpretation of our data is that magma is degassing at shallow depths and the situation remains highly volatile.

Another gas flight was completed today, and the data is currently being analysed to support our ongoing understanding of the volcano.

There is still a medium likelihood (50-60%) of eruptive activity in the next 24 hours. We have updated the eruption probability table.

Volcanic tremor at Whakaari/White Island since 12 November 2019:

So it is at it’s most active in the last 12 months and is significantly more active than leading up to Monday’s eruption.

From a thread by @NandorTanczos on the delay in recovering the bodies on Whakaari from Phil Van Dusschoten, Diveworks Charters, Whakatāne, 12/12/19:

This morning I attended a meeting with Commercial boat operators, other town reps and the Police.

Several high ranking officers from Auckland, A member of the Disaster Victim Identification squad and a member of the Deodar Police launch crew. Discussion revolved around the seemingly unnecessary delay in recovering the deceased.

The best information came from the DVI member.

Key points

  1. The Island is still in a potentially sudden explosive state. A White Island Tours skipper said that this eruption was like a bomb going off with shrapnel going off and only about 3 seconds from seeing the first unusual puff of steam to encountering the full blast.
  2. A thick layer of ash has changed the landscape, covered the tracks etc. and it is this layer of ash that contains the toxic and noxious gases that is releasing more so when disturbed. This is the problem gas and not that being visibly emitted from the crater and surrounds.
  3. He further advised that attempts to mitigate the gas using masks and standard breathing apparatus equipment were unsuccessful and highly limited. We were told that specialist suits and re-breather equipment was on it way as we spoke.
  4. Victim identification. The want for rapid identification allowing sooner release of bodies is paramount therefore scene examination rather than just grabbing the bodies was desirable. Bits of clothing and other means of identification on or near bodies being one of the means.

Secondary was the preservation of fingerprints with those easily being lost in this type of disaster. Other means of identification, teeth and DNA would take much longer. That is why after so many days a proper recovery is desired.

I made the following comments:

  1. The lack of information coming to the public was unfair leading to mis- information and speculation. That the information just given to us by the head of DVI should be release asap to give the public a little more understanding. They agreed.
  2. Have you actually located by drone or other method the location of each body?
    Answer: we have located 6 in situ. and we have seen one in the water which we could not recover due to sea conditions. Police and Navy divers are on their way. So one, possibly more unaccounted for.
  3. Once recovered can you assure us that the bodies will be returned via Whakatane and not just whisked off by helicopter or other to another destination . I feel the town needs this first for some sort of closure.
    Answer: If possible we will return the bodies to Whakatane
  4. When all the bodies on the Island are recovered how much longer will the 5 mile exclusion zone stay in place.
    Answer: From the Harbourmaster.. Unknown.

I don’t  see why the bodies should go to Whakatane first. What for? The priority should be on victim identification and autopsies, and Whakatane isn’t likely to be set up for that. If recovered bodies are taken to the Wellington (navy ship) then logistically it would probably be difficult to take them to Whakatane.

POLICE UPDATE – Whakaari / White Island body recovery

Statement attributable to Deputy Commissioner John Tims, National Operations Commander

This morning a blessing was held at sea with representatives of the families of the victims of the Whakaari / White Island volcanic eruption.

The family representatives are returning to the mainland and the operation to recover the eight bodies on the island has commenced.

The weather is overcast (so shore photos of Whakaari don’t show the level of emissions) and calm.

It is a Defence Force operation with Defence Force staff only going on to the island.

It has been reported that the recovery is well under way.

From RNZ Live:

Mark Inman, the brother of tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman spoke with media earlier this morning.

He said the families are just appreciative that something is really happening now.

“It’s a credit to those three key people for me – who were Mike, Anaru and William – who came down to a personal level and listened to the families and listened to their wants and needs and saw it from a human side of things.

“It’s a credit to Ngāti Awa as well for giving us the time and opportunities to take the families out to the island and have some closure. As a cultural thing, that’s amazing. As a nation we’re blessed. The Australians on the boat with us, they felt it.

They were inclusive, it was just incredible, proud to be a Kiwi. Obviously there was a lot of emotion. It was a really spiritual, fulfilling morning. It was one of those moments that you’re proud to be a New Zealander, proud to be amongst the Māori culture, and credit to Ngāti Awa for providing that opportunity to the families”

When talking of the families being welcomed back to shore he said, “It’s the New Zeland way and it’s just magic, truly special.”

National u-turns

National seem to working through a few u-turns as election year progresses.

Bringing soldiers’ remains back to New Zealand was announced on Monday:  Military personnel remains to be brought home

The families of New Zealand military personnel, and their dependants, buried overseas between 1955 and 1971 in Singapore and Malaysia will be offered the opportunity to repatriate their loved ones.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister David Bennett says this decision comes as a result of recommendations by the Veterans’ Advisory Board and the advocacy of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association and families affected, and has thanked them for their important contributions.

“Following the efforts by families to have their loved ones brought home, the Government last year asked the Veterans’ Advisory Board to look into New Zealand’s repatriation policy. The Board identified a number of inconsistencies, and the Government has listened.

“New Zealand had an inconsistent policy of repatriation between 1955 and 1971. Families could opt to meet repatriation costs themselves, but not all could afford to do so. Other civil servants were also repatriated. We want to restore fairness for those families affected.”

Mr Bennett says the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) will also look at extending the offer to the families of New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial between 1955 and 1971 in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Korea, and the United Kingdom, and all countries involved have been contacted.

The NZDF will oversee the repatriation process, including consultation with the families, and the planning and subsequent return of any bodies.

“The decision on whether or not to bring the bodies home will be the families’ to make,” Mr Bennett says.

“If they choose not to repatriate, the graves will continue to be cared for under current agreements. We will support the families through this process.”

And today Government u-turn on country of origin labelling

The National Party will support a Green MPs bill requiring country of origin labelling on single ingredient food such as fruit and meat in a u-turn Prime Minister Bill English said was due to consumer preferences.

Steffan Browning’s Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill will have its first reading in Parliament soon and is set to go to select committee after National agreed to support it.

It will require mandatory country of origin labelling for fresh single ingredient foods such as meat, fruit, vegetables and nuts as well as oils and flour.

That was a shift from National’s original decision to oppose it. English said there had been “quite a bit of discussion” in National’s caucus about it.

“It’s just reflecting pretty strong consumer preferences.”

And it probably reflects the desire of national to get back into Government.

English said National would decide after the select committee process whether to continue to support it into law. About 80 per cent of single ingredient foods were already labelled with the country of origin. “It is about whether it is feasible or desirable to require the rest of them to label.”

He said the initial decision to oppose it was because National was always sceptical about new regulation, especially if it felt most people’s needs were being met by the current regulation. There was also some concern about whether it would impact on trade agreements.

Browning said it was “fantastic news” for consumers if it went ahead and could help boost sales of New Zealand produce and meat.

I think that we should be accurately informed about country of origin of foods available for purchase.