This morning, a military team risked their lives to bring the White Island victims home.

Before daybreak this morning the families whose loved ones’ bodies still remain on White Island boarded a tour boat.

It was dark as they sailed within a kilometre of the volcano where their parents, children, siblings, family and friends lost their lives. Alongside local tribal leaders, they conducted an emotional prayer and blessing before the mission to retrieve the bodies started.

About 80 locals gathered on the mainland’s waterfront singing songs and offering karakia (prayers) for the rescuers about to undertake an unpredictable and incredibly dangerous mission.

Authorities Attempt To Recover Bodies Of Volcano Victims
Family and friends of victims travelled by boat to the island for a ceremony before the mission started. Image: John Borren/Getty Images.

On Monday, White Island's volcano exploded. The official death toll is eight with a presumptive toll of 16.

The retrieval mission for the eight bodies was fraught with risk. Scientists warned of a 50 to 60 per cent chance of another eruption in the next 24 hours. But police were determined to try; another eruption would destroy the bodies altogether.

It was the first time a mission like this had been carried out anywhere in the world. And the decision wasn't made without extensive international advice, reported The Guardian.

Vision of the White Island explosion was captured on camera. Post continues after video. 

Video by Blue Wave 2020

At about 7:20am eight military personnel, believed to be SAS soldiers, landed on the island. They'd been kitted out with protective equipment, which according to Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement was "restrictive and heavy but necessary".

They were warned that a single breath of the toxic gases on the island could be lethal. They were told to get in and out as quickly as possible.

"They're saying now that the island is that gassy that you could have one breath and it could either kill you or wreck your body system forever, so we've just got to wait and pray that they get them off with all the decent breathing apparatus," charter fisherman Mick Brown told the NZ Herald.


Police kept watchers-on informed, tweeting out when the group had found the area where the bodies were believed to be, warning that the operation was already taking longer than expected.

By lunchtime, six bodies had been flown by helicopter to a waiting navy ship.


Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha told the Herald victims' families burst into applause when they were told.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the six bodies recovered are Australians.

"I think it is difficult to say in advance of the formal process but we know, and we have been advised by authorities, that that is expected to be the case, yes," she told AAP.

According to a list released by New Zealand police on Friday, the bodies are likely to belong to Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica from Brisbane, 21-year-old Krystal Browitt, Coffs Harbour couple Karla Matthews and Richard Elzer, and 15-year-old Zoe Hosking from Adelaide.

Julie Richards and Jessica Richards
Julie and Jessica Richards are expected to be among the retrieved victims. Image: Facebook.

If this is confirmed, the two bodies that still on the island are Kiwi tour guides Hayden Marshall-Inman and Tipene Maangi. Although the recovery team couldn't rescue their remains, they will be returning for them as soon as further planning is in place.

The eight people who risked their own lives today for the recovery operation were thanked for their courage and bravery. From here the six bodies that were retrieved will undergo a victim identification process in Auckland.

Mark Inman, the heartbroken brother of one of the island's victims, wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week asking for permission to stage his own recovery operation of his sibling's body. It's likely his brother is one of the two still on the island.

"With the current conditions of sunshine baking and decomposing his body, he's going from a situation where we could have an open casket to now more likely not having a body at all – due to your government's red tape and slow decision making," Inman wrote to Ardern.

And now, the country and the world continues to hold its breath, hoping the conditions hold out so that the two remaining victims can be brought home, and put to rest.

- With AAP.

Feature Image: John Borren/Getty Images.