• Six confirmed dead, eight missing, 31 in hospital after White Island volcano erupts twice
• Police now say "to correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation."
• There were 47 people in total on the island, 38 of them were from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas
• Thirty-nine people were taken off the island by heroic rescuers in the face of extreme danger, says PM. Six of those people have died.
• Middlemore Hospital's burns unit has received the equivalent of a years worth of work in one day
• Police say there are no further signs of life on the island, following flyovers late on Monday
• Many of the victims are tourists from Australia, the UK, China, Malaysia and the US
At least one of the dead is a local man - a popular tourist guide
The alert level on the island volcano was raised several weeks ago
Scientists say the volcano erupted instantaneously

Police have confirmed a further person has died following the eruption on Whakaari / White Island, bringing the official toll to six.

The person was earlier being treated at Middlemore Hospital.

STORY CONTINUES UNDER LIVE BLOG

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Police have stepped back from their position that a criminal investigation has been launched into the circumstances behind the White Island eruption, which left five dead, eight missing and dozens badly injured.

In a press statement just before 7pm, police said "to correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation."

Police confirmed they are investigating the death of individuals on Whakaari/White Island on behalf of the coroner, in parallel with a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.

"WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the eruption," police said.

"As the workplace health and safety regulator and administrator of the Adventure Activities Regulations, WorkSafe will be investigating and considering all of the relevant work health and safety issues surrounding this tragic event."

Police have been working with Defence and Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) to determine conditions on the island, including gas levels in the atmosphere so they can understand the nature of conditions.

"This will involve the deployment of drones carrying specialist measuring equipment in order to collect and analyse gas levels.

"This data and information will inform the next steps we are able to take.

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"Windy conditions this afternoon have meant drones have been unable to be deployed yet, but they will be as soon as conditions allow."

Police said they are continuing to take advice from scientific experts including from GNS Science, who are considering three aspects of the recovery operation:

- conditions on the island,

- requirements those going on the island will need,

- and the care and transportation of the bodies when they are recovered.

"We understand people's desire to recover their loved ones and we are working around the clock to get onto the island so we can recover them as soon as possible," police said.

"Based on the effects of the eruption on the bodies, this recovery will need to be handled with expert skill and care."

Police confirmed the nationalities and numbers of the 47 people who were on the island at the time of the eruption:

- 24 people from Australia
- Two people from China
- Four people from Germany
- One person from Malaysia
- Five people from New Zealand
- Two people from the United Kingdom
- Nine people from the United States of America

There are five confirmed fatalities, and eight people missing and presumed deceased.

The bodies of the five confirmed deceased are being transported to Auckland so post-mortems can be carried out tomorrow.

"We are working to confirm the identities of those involved, including those who have died and who are injured," police said.

"We are working through a complex Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) process.

"The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter.

"We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible to return those who have died to their loved ones."

Tims answered a question about a picture of the island that had markings about where bodies could potentially be.

There were six markings currently, likely to be six bodies, but two more people are missing.

The bodies of the dead are "certainly" covered in ash, Tims said.

When asked how confident he was that they could recover the bodies from the island, Tims said: "We're doing everything we possibly can. We know the importance of recovering the bodies to the families and friends, so we're working really hard in that space."

Experts have warned there is a 50 per cent chance of another eruption within 24 hours.

In the interim police are continuing to work with experts on three key aspects of the recovery operation: the condition of the island, the requirements of those who will go to the island and the care and recovery of the dead.

Five people have been confirmed dead and 31 injured - 25 of who are now in four regional burns units around the country. Another six will be transferred to burns units as soon as possible.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Pete Watson said all burns units are now at capacity and some of the Australian patients who are well enough to travel will likely be transferred to Australian hospitals where they can be closer to family.

Twenty-seven of the 31 injured have suffered burns to more than 30 per cent of their body and many have inhalation burns that require airways support.

Watson said Middlemore's burns unit has received the equivalent of a years worth of work in one day following the eruption.

A total of 47 people were on the island when it erupted at 2.11pm on Monday, sending an ash plume 12,000ft into the air. They were aged between 13 and 72 and most and 38 were tourists from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, which was docked in Tauranga.

Experts say many of the White Island victims may have been knocked out almost instantly by toxic gases.

An image posted to Instagram showing the helicopter that was destroyed during the White Island volcanic eruption. Photo / Supplied
An image posted to Instagram showing the helicopter that was destroyed during the White Island volcanic eruption. Photo / Supplied

The tragedy has rocked the local community and made global headlines as terrifying tales of the dramatic incident have emerged.

Tourist Michael Schade was on a boat near the island when it erupted. He told the Guardian the skipper of the boat had put on speed to get away from the volcano, but after the smoke cleared they could see a crowd of people and decided to return.

He said some of the tourists were screaming and others were in shock.

"Some people had pockets of burns, other people were fine, and others were really rough," he told the Guardian.

Hamilton man Geoff Hopkins, 50, provided first aid to some of the critically injured, describing how people were "horrifically burnt" with some drifting in and out of consciousness as he tried to tell them everything was alright.

"They were just so massively burnt."

He said that after visiting the island, his group had moved by boat to get one last look at the crater when the eruption commenced.

"There was just this gasp across the boat and I looked up.

"I could just see this plume of white and grey rising quite high and quite quickly," Hopkins told the Herald.

And yet, it was silent.

"At that moment, it was quite beautiful - we were watching a volcano erupt in front of our very eyes.

"But then the ash just rolled up over the rock face and as it rolled over, it just suddenly became quite menacing."

Hopkins saw people running into the sea to escape the eruption and the crew then rushed to pull people from the water.

Boatload after boatload of survivors was then pulled onto his boat. Cold water was poured over victims' peeling skin and singed clothing cut away as they made their way back to shore.

Geoff Hopkins and Lillani Hopkins pictured just before they left White Island ahead of yesterday's eruption. Photo / Supplied
Geoff Hopkins and Lillani Hopkins pictured just before they left White Island ahead of yesterday's eruption. Photo / Supplied

THE VICTIMS

Those feared dead are from New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the United States, China and Malaysia.

Thirty-one people are being treated in seven hospitals with a range of injuries.

Some of the injured have burns to 90 per cent of their bodies and a source said they may not survive the terrible injuries.

Eight victims are in critical condition at Waikato Hospital, four at Middlemore and other patients are fighting for their lives at Hutt and Christchurch hospitals.

The injuries people sustained while visiting White Island have been described as "pretty horrendous" by a first responder.

Ken Clark, the chief fire officer of the Whakatane Volunteer Fire Brigade, said despite sustaining shocking burn injuries, the victims had to endure a lengthy - and probably painful - journey back to the mainland.

"It's an hour plus from there to the wharf so these people were sitting on the decks with problems and had to sit there for the whole duration of the trip," he said.

"That wouldn't have been comfortable at all. You've got to feel very sorry for those people.

"It was a matter of getting them off the boat as soon as possible because of the injuries that had occurred. There were some pretty horrendous type things."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last night: "We must prepare for some difficult news in the days ahead."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets first responders who dealt with survivors from the White Island volcanic eruption at Whakatāne. Photo / RNZ
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets first responders who dealt with survivors from the White Island volcanic eruption at Whakatāne. Photo / RNZ

Former Whakatāne mayor Tony Bonne says one of the people killed was an experienced guide for White Island Tours - "a young energetic man who's lost his life".

White Island Tours' chairman Paul Quinn said the company was deeply saddened following the significant eruption.

"Devastation is an understatement. This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted."

He said the company was currently assisting police and Civil Defence with the official emergency response.

"We acknowledge the considerable efforts from police and Civil Defence and will continue to do whatever is necessary throughout the rescue operation."

"Our immediate focus is on supporting our staff, manuhiri and respective whānau, who have been significantly impacted and are showing immense strength and courage."

READ MORE:
White Island erupts: Why were tourists allowed on unsettled island?
Scientist: White Island eruption was 'basically instantaneous'

'I can't think of anything worse' - Survivor on being abandoned on an erupting volcano
White Island eruption caps off a decade of drama at angry volcano

THE RECOVERY OPERATION

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has flown to the Bay of Plenty to oversee police and Civil Defence operations and meet with first responders. She described today's grim task as a "recovery option".

However, it is still too dangerous for emergency services to set foot on the island, and the recovery mission is being hampered by significant ash fall and the risk of further explosions.

Police issued a statement early Tuesday updating the emergency operation.

"The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption.

"No signs of life have been seen at any point.

Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.

"Police continue to receive information and advice from GeoNet experts to support the recovery operation.

"The Police Disaster Identification (DVI) team are assembling in Whakatāne to await deployment.

QUESTIONS BEING ASKED

Questions are now being asked as to why tourists were allowed at White Island when its "alert level" had been elevated over recent weeks.

Under the GeoNet-managed NZ Volcanic Alert Level system, the volcano had recently been rated level 2, indicating "moderate to heightened volcanic unrest".

Monash University School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment Emeritus Professor Ray Cas said today White Island has been "a disaster waiting to happen for years".

"Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT SOMEONE

The police 105 number can be used by members of the public to submit information regarding friends or family who might have been visiting White Island during the eruption.

People from overseas can call +64 9105 105 or use an online form on the police website.

At the request of New Zealand Police, New Zealand Red Cross has activated the Family Links website for people wanting to register themselves as safe or register an inquiry about a loved one.

If you are worried about a friend or family member following the White Island eruption, first contact them as you normally would.

"If you cannot make contact, you can register them through this website.