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New Zealand troops to recover bodies on White Island volcano

New Zealand troops to recover bodies on White Island volcano
December 13, 2019

New Zealand troops have landed on the White Island volcano to recover the bodies of people who were killed when it erupted on Monday.

With family members waiting for certainty about the fate of their relatives, the operation has been launched despite the risk of another eruption.

With eight confirmed dead from the eruption and 20 in intensive care with severe burns, there are believed to be a further eight bodies on the island.

New Zealand Police say the operation is going to plan but is taking more time than expected due to the protective equipment the team are wearing, which they say "can be restrictive and heavy but is necessary".

Report shows that 47 visitors from around the world were on the island when it erupted - 24 were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK and one from Malaysia.

With the families of the victims keen for the bodies to be recovered, Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner told reporters "we are now living with a growing sense of desperation to bring home those that we know are there

"The frustration of those families most affected is completely understandable."

The team, kitted out with protective clothing and breathing apparatus, was flown from a naval frigate to the island on Friday morning local time.

During the operation, a geologist is analysing real-time data to assess whether the mission needs to be aborted if volcanic activity rises.

According to the New Zealand Herald, all of the bodies are within 200 metres of each other.

New Zealand Police are also conducting investigations over the incident for the Coroner, not for criminal proceedings as some media outlets have reported.

WorkSafe, the public body responsible for enforcing New Zealand's Health and Safety Act, announced on Tuesday that it is investigating the operations of White Island Tours, the company which organised the excursions.

The company is facing a fine of up to NZ$1.5 million after an eruption killed at least six people and, according to reports, could also be ordered to pay reparations.

However, with lawyers from some of the victims' countries speculating on legal action over the tragedy, New Zealand’s no-fault personal injury laws that protect its adventure tourism industry from class actions mean victims and their families won’t be able to sue for negligence.

The no-fault personal injury laws that cleared the way for the world’s first commercial bungy-jumping operation over 30 years ago shut the door on class actions and offer one-off lump sum payments capped at a maximum $202,000.

Medical fees for locals and tourists are covered by the New Zealand Government’s Accident Compensation Corporation which provides compulsory insurance for personal injury but it means they cannot sue for damages.

One legal commentator suggested that while the families and victims might consider legal action in Australian courts or against the US-based Royal Caribbean cruise line which operates the Ovation of the Seas ship from which many of the victim booked and embarked on their excursion, it was likely New Zealand laws would apply because that is where the accident happened.

Tourists on the White Island excursions signed waivers that they understood it was an “unpredictable and active volcano” but questions remain about whether they were properly informed of the dangers.

Images: White Island after Tuesday's eruption (top, courtesy of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust) and an ash-covered helicopter on the island shortly after the eruption (below, source: Instagram).

Related Articles

10th December 2019 - Tourist excursions to White Island were a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

9th December 2019 - Eruption at New Zealand’s White Island volcano leads to deaths and injuries

4th December 2019 - Significant fall in New Zealand skiing and snowboarding injuries attributed to risk management and education

28th August 2019 - Popular South Island National Park track reopens after flood repairs

5th June 2019 - Recreation groups applaud Worksafe New Zealand for clear guidance on access

8th November 2017 - New research shows adventure travellers’ relationship with risk

17th November 2016 - Australia and New Zealand ranked among top adventure tourism destinations

21st January 2016 - Tourists leap into the sea as excursion boat catches fire

30th October 2015 - Safety review for New Zealand adventure tourism operators

7th November 2014 - New Zealand adventure tourism operators warned to shape up or pay crippling fines

9th October 2014 - WorkSafe NZ grants registration grace period for adventure activities operators

1st August 2014 - Balloon crash pilot ‘too high’ too fly

22nd February 2014 - Attraction ordered to pay $4.6 million to quadriplegic for jumping pillow injury

19th July 2010 - TIANZ welcomes ACC experience rating

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