White Island eruption: Death toll rises to 18

White Island during its eruption. Photo: Reuters
White Island during its eruption. Photo: Reuters
An 18th victim has died as result of the Whakaari/White Island eruption, succumbing to their injuries in an Australian hospital overnight.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said the person's death brought the official number of dead from the eruption to 18 - 16 of whom died in New Zealand and two in Australia.

Whakaari/White Island erupted on December 9, killing 20 people. The bodies of two victims - 40-year-old Kiwi Hayden Marshall-Inman and 17-year-old Australian Winona Langford - remain unaccounted for.

Many of the 47 tourists and guides on the island when the volcano erupted were blanketed in the burning ash, steam and toxic gas.

Eight people remain in treatment at Middlemore Hospital, two patients are still being treated at Waikato Hospital, two patients are being treated at Hutt Valley Hospital and one patient is being treated at Christchurch Hospital.

One month on from the disaster, White Island Tours chairman Paul Quinn said no discussions had been held about when, or if, tours might resume.

"We haven't considered any return to White Island or any derivative thereof," Quinn told the Herald.

"We have looked at options excluding White Island. We do tours to Moutohorā which has a Kiwi sanctuary. We will at an appropriate time look to see if that is appropriate.

"In terms of Whakaari/White Island that is some distance down the road."

As well as cancelling all tours to White Island, White Island Tours – which is owned by Ngāti Awa Group Holdings - also suspended its tours to nearby Moutohorā/Whale Island after the disaster.

A resumption of tours to the area, including potentially water-based tours which might not take groups on to the island, would have to wait until any changes WorkSafe might make in regards to adventure tourism in the area.

In the immediate days after White Island erupted underneath the tour groups on the island, Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said she wanted tours to continue.

But talking on the eve of the month anniversary of the tragedy, she told the Herald that if tours were resumed then she could understand why changes could be made by operators, including potentially meaning island landings were off limits.

"The decision on this one is very much in the hands of White Island Tours as to what they feel comfortable doing ... whether landing is a future opportunity or not, of if observing from a greater distance may be the better thing," Turner said.

 

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