The mission begins at 4.26am.
Rain falls from dark, cloudy skies and a gentle wind blows.
An eerie quiet fills the air and Whakatāne's streets are silent as families who lost loved ones are ferried out on boats to White Island.
But they would not step one foot on Whakaari where the tragedy unfolded and where the specialist recovery team would afterwards retrieve six bodies.
The families later re-dock at the wharf and Ngāti Awa supporters envelope them as they move toward Mataatua Marae.
A karakia fills the air, and the wailing of utter grief.
Those gathered hug one another, with heads hung. The simple step of putting one foot in front of another appears an effort, and some people need more help than others.
As well as each other, families hold picture frames and flowers.
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There is no rain now. Instead, there are tears and silent sobs they walk into the marae.
The clouds are low, with momentary breaks of sun shimmering through.
Rotorua's Vivienne Wilson, of Ngāti Awa, says when the cloud broke earlier that morning, "she knew the helicopter had landed".
Wilson sits outside the marae. Her nephew was on the island on Monday but is alive and well.
Her eyes fill with tears as she speaks of the "deep hurt''. She stays seated at the marae to express her solidarity with the families.
Wilson grew up in Whakatāne and says the last time she was on the wharf was when she was a child.
Standing on it now is heartbreaking in comparison.
The heart of the town is broken and locals describe the atmosphere as sombre.
Local woman Simone Baldock says ''total mourning and devastation" has hung over the town since Monday.
"I think it will be around for a long time."
Her words are reflected throughout the quiet bustle of the town's streets.
Carparks are full but the cheerful chatter expected around Christmas time is absent.
I see no laughing and rather timid encounters between people.
Whakatāne resident Phillipa Smith says the recovery of the bodies is bitter-sweet.
"I haven't felt good since Monday, it really affects a small town like this."
That two bodies are still unaccounted for is sad, she says.
The end of a week from hell is bittersweet now six bodies have been brought back to grieving families. But they won't know until a thorough identification process determines who has been returned.
The bodies will be put in coffins and the whānau, together, will have a chance to be with the bodies before they are identified.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush says efforts to retrieve the two bodies they have not been able to find so far is ongoing.
The sombre news is something The Cut hair salon owner Shelley Hobman says is all people are talking about.
"Everybody's flat ... they're finding it hard to be happy about Christmas."