New Zealand police will reduce the search for two bodies still missing after the White Island volcanic eruption as they believe the remains had likely been washed out to sea.
Authorities have been searching for the bodies of Winona Jane Langford, 17, from Australia, and Hayden Bryan Marshall-Inman, 40, from New Zealand since the blast on December 9 which killed 18 people. The other 16 victims have been identified.
Mike Clement, New Zealand’s deputy police commissioner, said the two missing people are believed to have been killed near a stream on the island.
He said that a wave of volcanic debris and rainfall since the eruption almost certainly swept them off the island and experts now believe the bodies were in the open sea with little chance of recovery.
Emergency services have conducted aerial searches and sent dive teams into the waters off the island in a bid to locate the bodies.
A team of special forces officers also went onto the island and retrieved six bodies despite the threat of another eruption.
Clement said the search would continue but it would be handed over to local police in the next few days.
“We are deeply sorry that we haven’t until this time been able to recover the bodies,” he told reporters. “We are literally in the hands of the sea.”
At least 12 of the 18 victims were Australians, while another three were US citizens living in Australia.
Two, including Marshall-Inman, were New Zealanders working as tour guides.
An 18th victim died in Sydney on Saturday and, while his family have requested his details remain private, media reports have said he was Australian.
A total of 47 visitors and guides were on the island when it erupted, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Authorities are examining why tour operators were allowed to take travellers onto the volcano’s rim just days after scientists had raised its threat level.