— With AAP.
1. The risky mission to retrieve the bodies still on White Island is underway.
Whakatane locals have performed a haka and are singing to keep spirits high as the New Zealand defence force launches its mission to retrieve bodies from the White Island volcano.
Even before first light on Friday, vessels from the navy and White Island Tours headed out to sea to support the high-risk operation.
Those involved in the mission travelled by ship and helicopter.
Grieving family members were taken in the commercial boat on the perimeter of the exclusion zone, while other families waited back on the shore.
An NZDF helicopter has returned from Whakaari/White Island. Two choppers left earlier this morning to begin the recovery mission. pic.twitter.com/RY5WcNUpNa
— Tommy Livingston (@TommyLivingston) December 12, 2019
Another boat, with Maori representatives, performed a blessing at sea in the Bay of Plenty.
Both vessels have since returned to Whakatane wharf, but there’s been no official word on the mission’s success or failure.
New Zealand police deputy commissioner Mike Clement is at the wharf alongside health workers and the family members.
Clement, who sanctioned the plan, was adamant operatives had various bail-out points should risks grow to unacceptable levels.
“A lot has to go right for this to work,” he said on Thursday.
The first boat left around 4:30am.
Whakatane airport has been a hive of activity, with a Hercules C130 defence force plane arriving on Wednesday to support the mission and helicopters coming and going on Friday morning.
The trip to White Island will involve as few people – believed to be SAS agents – as possible and will spend as little time as possible near the crater.
GNS Science has predicted a 50 to 60 per cent chance of a further eruption in the next 24 hours, even publishing maps where they believe it is unsafe for their staff members to travel.