A NZ military helicopter departs for the recovery operation.
A NZ military helicopter departs for the recovery operation.

Six bodies uplifted from White Island

The New Zealand team tasked with retrieving the bodies of those killed in a volcanic eruption on White Island have airlifted six bodies off White Island and onto a navy vessel.

Police announced the development at 11.17am NZDT Friday, four days after the blast on Monday and several hours after commencing the high-risk mission.

Six of the bodies on the island, also known as Whakaari, are believed to be those of Australians.

Police had foreshadowed their inability to locate all eight bodies believed to be on the island, with surveillance only identifying six among the debris and ash.

They only planned to look for the remaining two if there was time and it was safe.

It is unclear whether they will continue to search.

The high-risk mission took place despite raised seismic activity in the wake of Monday's blast.

GNS Science warned there was a 50 to 60 per cent chance of a further eruption, posing a major threat to the operation and the lives of the team on Whakaari.

An update issued while they were on the island said the "level of volcanic tremor has dropped but remains very high compared to pre-eruption levels".

Instead of opting for a plan to spend as little time on the island as possible, NZ Defence Force members - believed to be SAS soldiers - spent hours on the surface of the active volcano.

"The equipment that the operators are wearing on the island is significant in terms of its weight and how it restricts movement," New Zealand police deputy commissioner Mike Clement said.

Clement paid tribute to the fortitude of those conducting the mission.

"Everybody has a rich appreciation of the absolute bravery of everyone involved, particularly those going onto the island," he said

"They will say 'it's their job' but the reality is we need people like that to do their job to get beyond moments like this."

Alongside the defence and police vessels used in the operation, family representatives and Maori community members also headed out into the Bay of Plenty at first light on Friday.

They conducted a spiritual service close to the island before returning to shore, embracing remaining family members.

Some 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens, were on the island when the volcano erupted.

Eight Australians are confirmed dead, two are presumed to have died and 13 are in hospital fighting for their lives with severe burns.

The official given by NZ authorities stands at eight, with a presumptive toll of 16.



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