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.



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.”

Slater active recovering from stroke

Cameron Slater seems to have made a rapid recovery from what was claimed to be a severely debilitating stroke.

He stopped posting at Whale Oil when he had the stroke in later October 2018. Soon afterwards he continued commenting occasionally, but there seemed to be a blackout of any mention of the stroke or why he had stopped posting for several months, until an announcement on 21 January – ‘Where the hell is Cam?’

Cam suffered a serious stroke that left him partially paralysed down his right side and totally paralysed in his right arm including his hand and fingers as well as severe impairment in higher order functioning and moderate speech impairment.

Now that more than two months have passed, we have decided it is time to let you, our loyal audience, know what has been going on behind the scenes.

Progress is being made, but it is very long and very hard. Cam cannot concentrate, read or take phone calls for more than ten or fifteen minutes a day. He cannot cope with loud noises, background noises or being interrupted and he certainly does not have the ability to form complex thought structures. The vision in Cam’s right eye has also been affected.

However, it would be untrue to pretend that we don’t need your help. Much as it pains us to ask others for help, we have concluded that we must ask for your assistance in helping Cam pay the huge legal bills he has incurred as a result of having to defend himself from the lawfare of his enemies.

That coincided with ongoing legal challenges, which raised questions about how incapacitated Slater actually was. Anyone would be stressed by the legal and financial holes he had dug himself into. Unrepentant and continuing to claim to be the victim didn’t help his cause.

Slater filed for bankruptcy in February, citing legal bills.

The company in which Slater was a shareholder and director that operated Whale Oil until some ownership switches in February went into liquidation in March.

Yesterday on Whale Oil:

Having just spent a bit of time with the boss I can tell you a couple of things.

He’ll be back if he chooses to be.

The mans grit and fortitude are unbelievable.
We had a reasonably active weekend and he stayed the course and even after he’d already told me he was knackered he then walked another kilometer.

Then the bloke that had lost all use of his right arm a few short months ago and has only regained a portion of its use and is in constant pain, picks up his shotgun, takes 3 practice swings and then proceeds to blow 9 out of 10 clay pigeons out of the air using the 2nd barrel only once.
If I hadn’t seen it (and scored it) I wouldn’t have believed it.

Bloody amazing man.
I hope Fisher sees this and chokes on his lactose free vegan soup.

So it sounds like Slater has made a rapid recovery. That’s good.

And according to this he is choosing not to go back to posting at Whale Oil at this stage.



Pike River re-entry costs escalate

A ‘concept plan’ for re-entry into the Pike River mine to recover miners’ bodies has been presented to their families by the Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little (actually three alternative options), but with that is a bigger than previously estimated cost.

RNZ: Pike River re-entry: ‘Concept plan’ presented to families

A plan for re-entering the drift of the Pike River Mine has been presented to victims’ familes in Greymouth this morning.

The plan is being described as a “concept plan” with more detailed planning to follow if it is approved.

Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little, and Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn have been talking to the relatives of the 29 men killed in the mine in 2010.

Mr Little said the families were now discussing the plan and he hoped to give it the go-ahead on Monday.

However, he said he expected they would approve the concept plan.

“My sense is the families are really happy with the level of work that has been done, the quality of ther work. They seem pretty satisfied with it … They’re keen for the project to continue to make progress, so that we re-enter the drift and recover as much as we can.”

RNZ:  Pike River Mine re-entry narrowed to three options

The planned re-entry to the Pike River mine has been narrowed to three options.

Mining specialists, Pike River Recovery Agency staff and family members of the 29 men killed in the 2010 blast were on the West Coast for a second workshop aimed at coming up with a plan for manned re-entry of the mine drift.

A panel of technical experts will now shift the focus to three scenarios which are now being developed further.

The scenarios include:

  • building a new two by two-metre tunnel around 200m long;
  • drilling a large diameter borehole;
  • re-entering the main drift as it is with no second means of egress (exit).

The aim is to try and find out what happened in order to prevent any further tragedies, to give the families closure and where possible, retrieve any remains found in the drift, the agency said.

Dinghy Pattinson, the recovery agency’s chief operating officer, said he was confident they would get back in.

“Any mining activity has dangers or risks involved, so it’s a matter of just identifying those risks throughout the whole process and having your controls in place,” Mr Pattinson said.

“If there was any real danger then that would be a show-stopper, so at this stage all the risks identified – I feel confident we can manage them.”

Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn said they had made bigger steps during this workshop.

“We still anticipate entering the mine before the end of the year, and we still think that’s achievable. This workshop is only step number two in a number yet to take,” Mr Gawn said.

He said among the steps was a detailed risk analysis of the preferred options.

It sounds like they are still far from certain how to get back into the mine, how risky it would be – and how much it would cost, even they they don’t yet know how they will do it.

Stuff: Pike River re-entry could cost $12m more than $23m budget, minister says

The plan to re-enter the Pike River mine could cost up to $12 milllion more than the $23 million budget, Stuff understands.

The Government had budgeted $7.6 million a year for three years, totalling up to $23m, for the Pike River Recovery Agency and re-entry to the mine.

When asked if he had told Cabinet the agency would need up to $12m more, Little said one of the options could cost up to that amount, but others would be less than that.

“We won’t know exactly what the figures are until more detailed work has been done.

While there remains a lot of doubt about how a re-entry would be achieved the expected cost seems to keep escalating.

I understand that some families really want the bodies of some miners recovered (some families don’t see the need).

What if the option chosen is the more expensive one – $35 million – and they get into the mine and they can’t find or can’t recover all of the bodies? What if bodies unrecovered are from families that most want them recovered? What then? Keep spending until they find and recover them all?

What if they can’t find out the cause of the explosions?