The bodies of the two victims who remain missing after a massive volcano ravaged New Zealand’s White Island last week were likely swept out to sea and may never be found, authorities said Wednesday.
A storm soon after the Dec. 9 eruption likely washed the bodies of Winona Langford, 17, of Sydney, Australia, and New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, down a stream and into the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said Wednesday.
Dive crews on a police boat spotted a male body in the water near the island two days after the eruption — but the body sank before the boat, which was fighting against large waves, could reach it, he said.
“We are deeply sorry that we haven’t, until this time, been able to return those bodies,” Clement told reporters in the town of Whakatane, about 30 miles away from White Island. “That has been our mission throughout, firstly to save people and then to recover people. It hurts us, and it hurts our people and it hurts everybody in this community when we don’t achieve that purpose.”
There is still hope that the bodies could be found at sea or washed ashore on the North Island’s East Cape — but police intend to scale back their search efforts over the coming days, Clement said.
“We haven’t given up,” the police official explained. “But what I am here to do is to signal to everybody that we have reached a phase where we are literally in the hands of the sea.”
Military specialists recovered six bodies Friday from White Island, which remains at risk of erupting again.
Officials previously confirmed that the eruption claimed eight other lives.
Survivors are being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia.
Winona Langford’s 19-year-old brother, Jesse Langford, 19, was initially deemed missing, but was later discovered among the injured at one of the country’s hospitals. He remains in critical condition, 9 News Australia reported.
Her parents, Anthony and Kristine Langford, were killed. The family, among dozens of other victims, were passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that had left Sydney two days earlier.
Authorities say 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were visiting the island at the time of the eruption.
Investigators are probing the circumstances of the disaster, and many have questioned why tourists were still allowed to visit weeks after the country’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency raised the volcano’s alert level from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption.
With Post wires
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