The risky mission to retrieve the bodies still on White Island is underway, & more in News in 5.

— 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.

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.

Still, the defence force operatives will walk into that red zone, urged by family members to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

At the shoreline, locals did what they could to manage their anxiety.

One group gathered in a circle to sing Amazing Grace.

Members of Ngata Awa, the local Maori tribe, sang and danced together, gathering near the police cordon that has become a makeshift memorial.

Locals have placed dozens of flower bouquets, as well as handwritten messages, in honour of the dead and missing.

The official death toll from the blast stands at eight, with the eight bodies believed to be on White Island giving a presumptive toll of 16.

2. A man has described hearing a “traumatic voice of a woman” while giving evidence in the Claremont serial killer trial.

The night Jane Rimmer was murdered in bushland, a man was woken by a high-pitched, traumatic voice shouting “leave me alone, let me out of here”, the Claremont serial killings trial has heard.

Ex-Telstra technician and confessed rapist Bradley Robert Edwards, 51, is on trial in the Western Australia Supreme Court accused of murdering Sarah Spiers, 18, Ms Rimmer, 23, and Ciara Glennon, 27, in 1996 and 1997.

Kenneth Mitchell, 75, said he and his wife went to bed at their home in the semi-rural Perth suburb of Wellard on June 8, 1996, just before midnight but were awoken by woman’s voice through their open window.


“We would only have been asleep for a short time and I was awoken by, I wouldn’t call it squealing but certainly a very high-pitched and traumatic voice of a woman,” Mr Mitchell testified on Thursday.

He said he heard her shout words to the effect of: “Leave me alone! Let me out of here!”

“It was very plain, very clear and very traumatic,” he said.

Mr Mitchell said he got out of bed very quickly and it appeared the voice came from nearby scrubland.

There was then “dead silence”, which he described as frightening.

He saw the reflection of lights and heard the sound of a car driving but did not see the vehicle.

Mr Mitchell said he looked around the next morning and only saw tyre tracks.

His wife Judith Mitchell, 76, testified she heard a “really agitated voice” of a woman who seemed to be arguing with someone but she could not hear the other person.

“I sat up and thought ‘oh, what’s going on?'” she said.

“The noise carried on for a while and then it seemed to get louder.”

Ms Mitchell said she looked out a window and vaguely saw the shadow of a car and thought she saw somebody walk behind a bush.

“But I couldn’t be sure on that because it was very dark,” she said.

Ms Mitchell said she went back to bed because she thought it was just people having a row.

“The door slammed shut and then they just went off,” she said.

She said the couple reported their experience to police after news reports of Ms Rimmer’s murder calling for information.

“It was just a very weird thing.”

Ian Sturcke, 71, and his wife Cheryl Sturcke, 68, were also woken by a scream, which lasted about five seconds, then was cut off.


“Dead silence,” Mr Sturcke said.

“There was nothing after that.

“Never heard a scream of that magnitude in my life.”

Ms Sturcke described it as “blood-curdling” and thought it was a “really serious domestic”.

“Never in my life have I heard a scream like that and I never want to hear it again,” she said.

Hours later, Ms Rimmer’s scratched watch was found by a horserider when he was thrown from the animal.

A Telstra-issued pocket knife was also discovered by two other horseriders that day.

Weeks later, Ms Sturcke said her family would go into “automatic pilot” when they smelt something bad, putting the windows up, thinking an animal had been hit by a car.

“There’s something dead in the bush,” she told them.

Ms Rimmer’s naked body was found under foliage 55 days after she vanished, not far from the properties.

3. The community of a 19-year-old Indigenous man shot dead by a policeman don’t want the trial moved to Darwin.

The community of a 19-year-old Indigenous man shot dead by a policeman say they would be shut out of the legal process if the officer’s trial is moved to Darwin.

Constable Zachary Rolfe faced Alice Springs Local Court by videolink from Canberra on Thursday, with defence lawyers asking for the case to be shifted.

Const Rolfe, 28, is charged with the murder of Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot at his home in Yuendumu, 300 kilometres from Alice Springs, on the evening of November 9.

Defence counsel David Edwardson QC said a “premature” decision to lay charges generated unprecedented publicity and misinformation, which has led to division within the community.

In light of the situation, he asked the court to move the case to Darwin to ensure access to a fair trial.

But according to the 100 or so members of the Yuendumu community who travelled to Alice Springs for the hearing and staged a peaceful sit-down outside the court, the case should stay put.

Samara Fernandez-Brown, Mr Walker’s cousin, said the proposal was a further blow to the already-mourning community.


“This court case is a part of our healing,” she told reporters outside court.

“By taking it to Darwin, it restricts family from being a part of that and it restricts us from healing.”

Ms Fernandez-Brown said travel costs to Alice Springs were being funded by a community kitty and GoFundMe page but the money would not cover the trip to Darwin.

“I can’t even imagine that being accessible,” she said.

“We could maybe just take a couple of us, which is unrealistic because the whole community is hurting.

“For us, we need that love, that strength and support, that coming together, because it helps us heal and it helps us feel united and it feels like this case is a cause for us all.”

Ms Fernandez-Brown and Valerie Martin are co-deputy chairs of the Yuendumu select committee set-up to identify issues for a coronial inquest to be held into Mr Walker’s death.

The group will hold meetings, talk to community members and work on possible safety strategies.

Ms Martin said Mr Walker’s family and friends must have access to the court hearings to “see what’s going on”.

“We’ve got community supports in central Australia,” she said.

“We just want justice in a peaceful way … not with violence.”

A decision on where the case will be held will be handed down later this month.


4. How the UK’s general election will affect Brexit.

If Prime Minister Boris Johnson achieves his goal, the new parliament is likely to move quickly to pass the Brexit withdrawal agreement the prime minister reached with European Union leaders.

Johnson says all the Tory candidates in the running back his divorce deal so a clear majority would give him a good shot at reaching his goal of taking Britain out of the EU by the January 31 deadline.

If that happens, little would change immediately since the agreement includes a transition period for the UK to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the EU. During the transition, Britain would continue to follow EU rules and regulations, and freedom of movement between EU nations would continue.

The next crunch time could come at the end of 2020. Johnson has said he would not extend trade talks past next December, indicating Britain would leave without a new trading arrangement in place rather than continue the talks. Most experts think it would take longer than one year for the two sides to reach an accord.

Emerging from the election without control of more than half of the seats would frustrate Johnson’s chief purpose in calling the election and cast the Brexit outcome in doubt. It’s possible he could form a coalition with a smaller party that might give him the votes needed to pass his Brexit divorce bill. It’s also possible a Labour-led coalition with the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats could form a government, most likely with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.


If this happens, Corbyn is expected to try to implement his party’s two-part Brexit plan: negotiating yet another withdrawal agreement with EU leaders within three months followed by a voter referendum within six months. The British public would be asked if it prefers enacting the new deal to proceed with Brexit or stopping the Brexit process altogether by remaining part of the EU. Corbyn says that as prime minister he would remain neutral in the referendum.

Pollsters suggest it is unlikely Labour will win a parliamentary majority but if that happens, Corbyn would have strong backing for his party’s Brexit road map. One potential problem is that leaders of other EU countries, weary of how Brexit has dragged on because of a long stalemate in British politics, have said they are unwilling to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement they already have with Johnson’s government.

However, that could change if an entirely new government comes to power, especially since the prospect of Labour’s promised referendum creates a real possibility that the entire Brexit process could be scrapped.

5. Australia has sent 20,000 square centimetres of allograft skin to help survivors of the White Island volcanic eruption.

Australia has sent 20,000 square centimetres of allograft skin to help survivors of the White Island volcanic eruption that has left eight Australians dead.

Another 1.2 million square centimetres shipped from the United States will arrive on Friday to treat the deep-tissue burns suffered by those still clinging to life.

The Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria and the Organ and Tissue donation service in Sydney both sent 10,000 square centimetres each. The Queensland Skin Culture Centre remains on standby to also send some.

A number of the victims, who were wearing summer clothing when they toured the active volcano on Monday, have burns to up to 80 per cent of their bodies.

Many also ingested ash and volcanic gases, resulting in horrific injuries to their lungs and airways, leaving them unable to talk.

All patients suffered burns requiring repair according to Peter Watson, chief medical officer at Counties Manakau Health.

“We currently have supply but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand addressing temporary skin grafts,” he said.


The allograft skin is surgically grafted over the burns – without which many would have no chance of survival.

It is applied to the wounds after dead tissue is removed and stapled over the burn.

“The layers that we provide are essentially the epidermis which is the top layer of skin and a small lawyer of dermis underneath the skin,” said Dr Stefan Poniatowski, head of the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria.

“The immune system of the recipient will reject the epidermis layer, but the dermis will actually incorporate and provide a nice healthy wound bed for the patients’ own skin to be grown or applied over the top.

“The allograft skin will be rejected, but it becomes a temporary biological dressing.”

The skin is collected from deceased donors, with a layer the thickness of a sunburn peel taken from the legs and back.

The allograft skin is stored in liquid nitrogen and safely kept at ultra-low temperatures for up to five years.

There are only three skin banks in Australia, and the New Zealand donation has had a “significant impact” on available supplies.

Dr Poniatowski said all three centres were preparing more allograft stock for release with the demand to increase as patients are repatriated to Australia where they could face years of treatment.

Major events have tested skin stockpiles in the past, particularly in the Bali bombings in 2002, with banks completely wiped out by Victoria’s Black Saturday fires in 2009.

Feature image: AAP/GETTY.