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.”

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 activity and warnings

It has always been known that Whakaari (Te Puia o Whakaari – The Dramatic Volcano”) is at risk of erupting.

In 1914 ten miners were killed when part of the crater collapsed.

Activity over the last few decades (Wikipedia):

  • Major eruptions in 1981–83 altered much of the island’s landscape and destroyed the extensive pōhutukawa forest. The large crater created at that time now contains a lake, whose level varies substantially.
  • In March 2000, three small vents appeared in the main crater and began belching ash which covered the island in fine grey powder.
  • An eruption on 27 July 2000 blanketed the island with mud and scoria and a new crater appeared.
  • Between July and August 2012 Whakaari / White Island showed signs of increased activity with lake and gas levels rising from inside the crater.
  • On 5 August 2012 a minor eruption occurred.
  • Ongoing volcanic activity and tremors on 25 January 2013 suggested another eruption was imminent. A small eruption occurred on 20 August 2013 at 10.23 am, lasting for ten minutes and producing mostly steam

Volcanic Alert Bulletins over the last few months (Geonet):

Whakaari/White Island Volcanic Alert Level raised to Level 2.

26 June 2019

Whakaari/White Island is experiencing moderate volcanic unrest and the Volcanic Alert Level is raised to Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island Volcanic Alert Level lowered to 1

1 July 2019

Whakaari/White Island shows lower level of gas emissions and the Volcanic Alert Level is lowered to 1.

Whakaari/White Island steam-driven activity increases

26 September 2019

Small, muddy, geyser-like explosions are occurring in the active crater at Whakaari/White Island due to a rising crater lake drowning the active vents. This geysering poses no risk to visitors. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 1.

Whakaari/White Island steam-driven activity increases

30 October 2019

Small, muddy, geyser-like explosions are occurring in the active crater at Whakaari/White Island due to a rising crater lake drowning the active vents. This geysering poses no risk to visitors. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 1.

Whakaari/White Island: Background activity increases further

18 November 2019

Volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island and some monitored parameters show further increases in activity. Hazards on the island are now greater than during the past few weeks, and the Volcanic Alert Level is raised to Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues

25 November 2019

Moderate volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island, but no new changes are observed in the monitored parameters. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues

3 December 2019

Moderate volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island, with substantial gas, steam and mud bursts observed at the vent located at the back of the crater lake. Other monitoring parameters remain elevated and the Volcanic Alert Level stays at Level 2.

Eruption occurred at White Island

9 December 2019

An eruption has just occurred at White Island.

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.