Seven of the nine people missing from the White Island volcano eruption are Australians, with cruise ship guest Jason Griffiths the latest confirmed to have died.

Coffs Harbour resident Griffiths, 33, was taken to hospital immediately after the blast but later died, according to a statement by a group of friends he was travelling with and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Griffiths had been with Coffs Harbour couple Karla Mathews, 32, and Richard Elzer, 32, who were still missing on White Island, the trio's friends said.

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The latest statement comes as volcanic activity on White Island has increased, in what could be a blow for authorities' attempts to retrieve the eight bodies still on the island.

GeoNet said that "volcanic tremor has significantly increased yesterday indicating that volcanic gas pressures remain high".

Griffiths, Mathews and Elzer had been holidaying on the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas cruise ship with friends.

"On the 4th of December 2019, we embarked upon a cruise as a group of nine close friends who were looking forward to a wonderful holiday together," the statement said.

"We enjoyed the first five days of our trip and have many memories that will stay with us forever.

"On the 9th of December 2019, we were devastated by the news that three of our friends were visiting White Island on a shore excursion during the time of the eruption.

"Some time later, we discovered that two of our friends, Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, were still on the island. We have been advised that there are no signs of life on the island.

"We then located our third friend, Jason Griffiths, in a hospital in the early hours of the next morning.


"From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members.

"We are incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends."

Meanwhile the status of several more victims also earlier emerged. Brisbane mother Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, have been identified as among the dead. Police told the family of the deaths.

The Dallow family says police have identified the body of Gavin Dallow, 53, and that Zoe Hosking, 15, is presumed dead, with her body on White Island. Dallow's wife and Hosking's mother Lisa is still in Waikato Hospital.

Jesse Langford, 19, of the missing Australian family-of-four, has reportedly been found to be among the injured.

Police said this morning that serious hazards remained for those involved in the retrieval operation.

A drone had been sent over White Island to test for toxic gas this morning, and police would be speaking with GNS scientists later today before deciding whether it was safe to return to the island.

The mayor of Whakatāne says local families are "desperate" to bring home those still on White Island.

Speaking at the cordon near Whakatāne wharf this morning, Judy Turner said police were poised to start the recovery mission.

"That's just a matter of timing but I'm very comfortable they'll be able to do that," she told Newstalk ZB.

"From what I understand, they're taking a team of experts out to do this work. [The families are] just desperate to get their loved ones back, it's horrendous."

Of the 47 people who were on the island at the time of the eruption, 39 have been brought off the island. Six of those have been confirmed dead.

A further eight people are still missing on the island and are presumed dead.

For all involved, Turner said getting those still on the island back to the mainland was the last hurdle.

She believed local iwi leaders would head out to White Island with the recovery team to do a karakia and make sure the process was done respectfully.

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Among the survivors, 30 were still in hospital as of last night - 24 in regional burns units, while the other six would be transferred as soon as possible. Three had been discharged.

Whakaari / White Island shortly after it erupted on Monday, sending plumes of gas and ash into the air. Photo / White Island Flights
Whakaari / White Island shortly after it erupted on Monday, sending plumes of gas and ash into the air. Photo / White Island Flights

Police deputy commissioner John Tims said identification was a complex process.

Six of the 47 people on the island were confirmed dead and 30 injured after Monday's eruption sent an ash plume 4000m into the air, visible from as far as 50km.

Eight others remain on the island and are presumed dead but a recovery operation will not begin until it is deemed safe for teams to go there.

"We understand people's desire to recover their loved ones and we are working around the clock to get on to the island so we can recover them as soon as possible," said Tims.
"Based on the effects of the eruption on the bodies, this recovery will need to be handled with expert skill and care."

The majority of those on the island were from the Ovation of the Seas and came from Australia, China, Germany, Malaysia, Britain and the US. Five were from New Zealand.

Most have serious burn injuries.

Ministry of Health spokesman Pete Watson said 27 of the injured people taken off the island had burns to more than 30 per cent of their body and many had inhalation burns requiring airways support.

He said most were in four regional burns units around the country and the rest would be transferred to burns units as soon as possible.

Middlemore Hospital's burns unit has received the equivalent of a year's worth of work in one day since the eruption.

All burns units are now at capacity and some patients well enough to travel will likely be transferred to Australian hospitals where they can be closer to family.

Watson reiterated the seriousness of the injuries and the number injured. "It is possible that not all of the patients will survive. But at this stage everybody is receiving the care that they require," he said.

Experts say many of the victims might have been knocked out almost instantly by toxic gas.

Tims said an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries was under way on behalf of the Coroner and in parallel with a WorkSafe investigation.