Whakaari/White Island: death toll rises to 15, recovery attempt to continue

Divers continue to search for the two remaining bodies at Whakaari/White Island. Another death in hospital has raised the toll to 15 (many of the survivors had been critically injured).

RNZ: Police confirm another death

The person who died was being treated at Waikato Hospital, police said.

It is believed 47 people were on or close to Whakaari / White Island when it erupted on Monday. With two people still missing on or around the island after the eruption, that brings the total number of deaths to 17.

Six bodies were recovered from the island yesterday but two have not yet been found.

Police report yesterday afternoon: Dive squad continue to search waters off Whakaari/White Island

Divers in the water around Whakaari / White Island today continue to face unique and challenging conditions.

A team of nine from the Police National Dive Squad resumed their search at 7am today for a body seen in the water following Monday’s volcanic eruption.

The water around the island is contaminated, requiring the divers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, including using specialist protective equipment.

Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water.

Each time they surface, the divers are decontaminated using fresh water.

Conditions in the water today are not optimal, with between zero and two metres visibility depending on location.

The dive operation will be boosted this afternoon with personnel from the Navy dive team.

Dive Squad at Whakaari/White Island

Attributed to Deputy Commissioner John Tims, National Operations Commander

The recoverry of 6 bodies on Friday was a lot more demanding and risky than some pushing for a speedy resolution seemed to appreciate.

Stuff: Gruelling recovery mission pushed soldiers ‘past the limit’

Wading through boiling, knee-deep acidic sludge, the team of experienced specialist soldiers tasked with recovering six bodies from Whakaari/White Island looked at each other in doubt.

The battle-hardened veterans from the Defence Force’s SAS E Sqaudron team had never found themselves in a situation like this before.

Underneath three layers of special garments their bodies were drenched in sweat, gas masks fogging up, claustrophobic heat attacking their resolve. There was a six per cent chance of being consumed in another eruption.

Growing pressure to retrieve the bodies had spurred the authorities into action, and a plan was made to go in at first light on Friday morning before they became entombed.

It was when they reached the bodies at the island’s crater that they hit dense mud, and had difficulty lifting equipment over sharp ravines.

“It was unbelievable, not a condition we train for or ever expect to operate in, it’s just so much hotter than you could expect.”

With their heavy apparatus, the team worked quickly in pairs to move the bodies to a central location, where a helicopter transported them to the HMNZS Wellington navy ship, a short distance from the island.

Once the team got back to the HMNZS boat themselves many of them were “pretty crook”, Matt said.

“We are talking about people trying to re-hydrate at sea”, Colonel Rian McKinstry said.

“There were a few people vomiting, drinking water, and everyone was very fatigued.”

All recovery team members have since been medically checked and assessed as healthy, McKinstry said.

The team went to their depths to complete this mission, he said.

I think that serious consideration has to be given to not allowing tourism to continue at Whakaari. It will cost the company that runs the tours and it will impact significantly on business in Whakatane.

Stuff; Ngāti Awa’s $9m volcano

Ngāti Awa paid $9 million to buy White Island Tours in 2017 in a bid to expand its asset base, and develop employment for Iwi members.

That investment now looks to be severely impaired as there is doubt tourist trips to Whakaari/White Island will ever happen again following an eruption on the volcano which is now confirmed to have killed 14 people.

White Island Tours had just turned profitable for the iwi with revenue having expanded from $500,000 to $4.5m, the latest Iwi Investment report showed, and optimism was high.

It must have always been recognised as a very risky investment.

And the cost of the disaster must be far greater.

Today from Stuff Live: Recovery team returns to island to search for victim

The recovery team undertaking the operation on Whakaari / White Island has landed on the island, police confirmed.



Whakaari/White Island eruption – images and videos

Whakaari/White Island erupted on 9 December 2019. It is regarded as New Zealand’s most active volcano, having erupted in 1975-2000, 2012-2013 and 2016.

As at the moment 8 people have been confirmed dead (it has just been announced that 2 more have died of injuries so up from 6) and 8 are still on the island, presumed dead. Over 20 survivors are in hospital suffering from severe burns.

White Island, showing the white clouds of highly acidic gases.

White Island, showing the white clouds of highly acidic gases. (Geonet)

Geonet About:

Sitting 48 km offshore, Whakaari/White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano which has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. About 70 percent of the volcano is under the sea, making this massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

A sulphur mining venture began on the island in 1885; this was stopped abruptly in 1914 when part of the crater wall collapsed, and a landslide destroyed the sulphur mine and miners’ village; twelve lives were lost. The remains of buildings from another mining episode in the 1920’s era are now a tourist attraction.

Although privately owned, Whakaari/White Island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

Previous Eruptions


White Island was in eruption from December 1975 to September 2000, the longest historic eruption episode. This eruption episode developed many collapse and explosion craters. For long periods active vents in these craters emitted volcanic ash. The last major eruption of this episode was in late July 2000 and covered the crater floor area in scoria, also displacing a crater lake and forming a new explosion crater 150 m across.


An explosive eruption occurred on 5 August 2012 with a period of ash emissions. This was followed by heating in the Crater Lake and the extrusion of a small lava dome Oct-Dec 2012.

Steam and sulphur explosions followed in Feb-April 2013 which removed the lake. By June the lake was re-established.

A further explosive eruption followed on 20 August and again on 4,8 and11 October 2013. In November 2015 a large landslide slipped into the lake.


On 27 April a short-lived eruption occurred in the evening. It deposited material all over the crater floor onto some of the crater walls. The eruption and associated small collapse of the lake edge also formed a new depression in the north east corner of the 1978/90 Crater Complex,.

In September, for a short period of time, ash was passively emitted from a vent on the 2012 lava dome.

From a tourist visit in 2017:

Michael Schade has posted a number of videos and and images from Monday’s eruption. He had toured the island half an hour before the eruption and took videos beefore, during and after the eruption from a boat that was leaving the island, but returned to pick up survivors who were on the island during the eruption.

It has been reported that the eruption was virtually silent from the boat.

Checked photo timestamps. Last photo from me standing on the land was 13:49; this first photo of the eruption was 14:12, about a minute or two into the eruption.


At it’s worst the ash, steam and gas cloud engulfed the island.


Survivors waiting on the landing area after the eruption, Some went into the sea to try to moderate the effect of their burns.

This helicopter was knocked off it’s landing pad:


The pilot and four passengers were evacuated by boat. They were not injured as much as most of those on the island.

Last photos: here are the White Island Tour operators rescuing people, timestamp 14:24 (~12-14 minutes after eruption). Endless gratitude to that crew for stepping up as first responders.



More from VOA:

This shows sulphur from the island streaked in the sea.

More tourist videos:

National Geographic details on the eruption:  Why the New Zealand volcano eruption caught the world by surprise

While there was no obvious sign of an imminent eruption on Monday seismic activity on the island has increased significantly since then, meaning recovery of bodies has had to be delayed.

Tour pelo vulcão White Island – New Zealand

Esse video tem por objetivo mostrar um pouco de como foi o tour pelo vulcão White Island antes e depois da erupção.

Whakaari-White Island – 6th death confirmed, body recovery planned

A victim of the Whakaari-White Island eruption has died in hospital, bringing the confirmed death toll to 6, but it seems certain that the 8 people missing are also dead. This makes the likely toll at least 14.

Attempts may be made to recover the bodies today.

Three people have been discharged from hospital, while 30 remain in hospitals, with 25 filling the burns units in Christchurch, Hutt Valley, Waikato and Middlemore Hospitals.

A total of 47 people were on the island at the time of the eruption. Another tour group has recently left, and returned to pick up some survivors.

Newsroom: Whakaari-White Island: Sixth person dies

MOH spokesperson Pete Watson said six patients had been transferred to Tauranga and Auckland to be treated and will be transferred to the four regional burns units as soon as there there is capacity.

“The volume of work facing our national burns unit at Middlemore hospital in one day is equivalent to the normal workload that they would see in a typical year at the burns unit at Middlemore,” Mr Watson said.

Twenty-seven people suffered burns to more than 30 percent of their bodies in the eruption yesterday afternoon.

Many of the patients have suffered inhalation burns.

Mr Watson said only a few of the patients were not in a critical condition and all of the burns units are currently at capacity.

Geonet (yesterday): Whakaari/White Island eruption: update #3

Since this morning, the seismic activity has remained weak, yet we continue to see periodic steam and gas driven jetting from the active vent area. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 3.

Over the next 24 hours we still estimate an equal likelihood of either no eruption or a smaller/similar sized eruption that would impact the main crater floor, based on our observations and measurements. There is a high level of uncertainty associated with this estimate and we are working to reduce that uncertainty. We also estimate the least likely scenario is a larger eruption. There is an extremely low likelihood of any ash impact to the mainland, but people may smell gas, depending on the prevailing wind direction.

Police (yesterday): Whakaari / White Island eruption – Work continues on recovery operation

Police continues to work on the recovery operation following yesterday’s eruption on Whakaari / White Island.

Windy conditions this afternoon have meant drones have been unable to be deployed yet, but they will be as soon as conditions allow.

We are continuing to take advice from scientific experts including from GNS Science, who are considering three aspects of the recovery operation:

  • the condition on the island,
  • the requirements those going on the island will need,
  • and the care and transportation of the bodies when they are recovered.

We understand people’s desire to recover their loved ones and we are working around the clock to get onto the island so we can recover them as soon as possible.

Police can also confirm we have commenced an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries on Whakaari / White Island.

The Terms of Reference will be developed in the coming days.

At this time Police is investigating the death of the individuals on Whakaari / White Island on behalf of the Coroner.

To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.

Debate has begun about if tours can resume to Whakaari. Whakatane has a big stake in the business and will be significantly affected by the tours ceasing.

Some volcano experts suggest there should be no more tourism to the volcano as the risks are too high.

Obviously demand will be about nil for a while anyway, but I think it will be difficult to get tours going again. I personally think the risks are too high just for a bit of a look at a live volcano.

Update from Geonet this morning:

Since around 4:00 am this morning the level of volcanic tremor has significantly increased at the island. This has been accompanied by vigorous steaming and localised mud jetting in several of the craters created by the eruption on Monday. We interpret these signals as evidence of continued high gas pressures within the volcano.

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


Whakaari/White Island eruption

So far one person has been confirmed dead and a number are unaccounted for (perhaps 20-30), and about twenty injured have returned the mainland (North Island) after Whakaari/White Island erupted at about 2:12 pm today. More deaths are expected.

Information is only slowly being released by police.

The volcano, only 30% of which is the visible island above sea level, has had increased aactivity over the laast couple of months but there was obviously no indication that an eruption was imminent. A number of tourist groups were visiting the island.

Geonet: Whakaari/White Island eruption: an update

An eruption occurred at ~14:11 local time as an impulsive, shortlived event and affected the crater floor. Activity appears to have diminished since the eruption.

An eruption has occurred at Whakaari/White Island at ~14:11 local time. We are aware that people were on the island immediately before the eruption and we express our concern for their safety.

Our monitoring data shows that there was a short-lived eruption that generated an ash plume to ~12,000ft above the vent. Ash has covered the main crater floor as seen in our webcam images. Ash fall appears to be confined to the island and we do not expect more than a minor amount of ash to reach East Cape in the coming hours.
Our monitoring equipment is still operating, and we have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation.

The Volcanic Alert Level has decreased to Level 3.

The Aviation Colour Code remains at Orange.

GNS Science and the National Geohazards Monitoring Centre continues to closely monitor Whakaari/White Island for further signs of activity. Volcanic Alert Level 3 indicates a minor local eruption is in progress.

NZ Police:  Eruption on White Island + advisory

Police is working with National Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a search and rescue operation following a volcanic eruption at White Island this afternoon.

The eruption occurred about 2:11pm.

White it was initially believed there were approximately 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption, we now believe there were fewer than 50.

Some of those people have been transported to shore, however a number believed to be on the island are currently unaccounted for.

Of those transported to shore, at least one has been critically injured.

Emergency services are working to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including rescue staff.

A volcanic eruption is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano.

Volcanic hazards may impact on and near the volcano.

Since that advisory the police confirmed one death and an undisclosed number unaccounted for.

Photos show a tour party close to the crater activity 1-2 minutes before the eruption. It doesn’t look good for them.

The full Māori name for the island is ‘Te Puia o Whakaari’, meaning ‘The Dramatic Volcano.

RNZ Update:

Five people have been confirmed dead after the eruption at Whakaari / White Island, police have said.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims confirmed the deaths about 9pm and said it was too early to confirm nationalities but both Kiwis and overseas tourists were involved.

He told media the island was unstable and the physical environment was deemed too unsafe for police to return to and police did not know if there were still people alive on Whakaari / White Island tonight.


Police Update: Eruption on White Island – recovery operation

The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption.

No signs of life have been seen at any point.

Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.

Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.

Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.

As part of the recovery a NZDF ship will approach the perimeter of the island at first light to deploy drones and observational equipment to further assess the environment.

Now called a recovery operation, which means bodies rather than survivors.

There were two successive explosions. Webcam from this morning shows some activity still:

A series of webcam shots before, during and since the eruption: https://www.geonet.org.nz/volcano/cameras/whakatane

Press conference at 7 am:

The police spokesman says that 47 people were on the island at the time of the eruption.

On top of the five deaths confirmed it is thought that there are eight still missing (presumed deceased) still on the island.

There are 31 injured and being treated in hospital.