Military specialists on New Zealand’s White Island have recovered six more victims’ bodies after a deadly volcanic eruption, bringing the official death toll in the tragedy to 14.
Two others remain missing and are presumed dead, but Thursday’s recovery mission – an arduous affair for military specialists searching through dangerous hot steam and mud – did not find them.
The effort began Friday morning local time after a blessing was held at sea with representatives of the families of the victims, a statement from New Zealand police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said.
The latest number of bodies recovered is current as of 11:11 a.m. local time, according to a police release.
The mission calls for eight specialists to recover the bodies of eight victims. Those believed fatalities are in addition to the official death toll of the eruption, which stands at eight.
The operation is going according to plan but taking longer than expected due to the heavy protective gear worn by the team, a police statement issued Friday at 9:15 a.m. local time says. At that time, the team was near the area where authorities believed most of the bodies were located.
Previous statements noted the complexity of the mission.
“A lot has to go right for us tomorrow to make this work,” a release from New Zealand police reads.
“There is no zero risk option in regard to the plan but we have carefully considered it. We don’t expect the risk to change tonight or tomorrow but we have planned for it.”
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Previously this week, the volcano’s continued venting delayed plans by authorities to recover the bodies. Scientists believe another eruption is possible.
Volcanologist Nico Fournier warned earlier that the volcano remained “highly volatile.”
Police believe 47 visitors were on the island at the time of the eruption, 24 of them Australian, nine Americans, five New Zealanders and others from Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
There are numerous factors affecting the mission, including rain in the weather forecast, which appeared be a factor in speeding up the planned recovery efforts.
Rain mixing with the island’s heavy volcanic ash could encase the bodies in a cement-like substance. Previously, police had said a methodical approach was needed to preserve evidence and help identify victims.
“My concerns remain the weather, the direction of the wind, the sea state because they all bring risk and add complexity,” Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said.
Two teenage brothers with ties to the Chicago area are among the victims of the eruption, multiple media outlets have reported.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 16-year-old Berend Hollander and 13-year-old Matthew Hollander died after being taken to a hospital after the White Island eruption.
Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press