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Police will tomorrow attempt to retrieve the bodies of eight people who remain on White Island after perishing in Monday's devastating eruption.

The retrieval operation will begin at first light. It follows days of growing frustration from grieving families at delays in emergency services returning to the island to collect their loved ones.


Three days on from the disaster, eight people are confirmed dead, the youngest a 13-year-old Australian schoolboy.

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Nine others are still missing, presumed killed. The bodies of eight of them remain on the county's most active volcano.

Police briefed families tonight about their plans for tomorrow's daring retrieval operation.

Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told media: "We have a plan."

But he warned the mission - involving eight people and expected to last several hours - was not without risk.

Shortly after first light New Zealand Defence Force "assets" would travel to the island assisted by specialist capabilities from other areas including police.

Police officers pictured speaking with Hayden Marshall-Inman's family after briefing family of their recovery plan. Photo / Alan Gibson
Police officers pictured speaking with Hayden Marshall-Inman's family after briefing family of their recovery plan. Photo / Alan Gibson

They would wear protective clothing to guard against the toxic gases.

"They will go on to the island, making every effort to recover the bodies and return to the mainland.

"I have to emphasise that the risk has not gone. The risk is present."

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Police knew through eyewitness interviews and drone and other footage that six bodies could be seen on the island.

"But we know that we are missing eight people," Clement said.

He acknowledged the trade-offs of quickly getting bodies off the island and the impact this may have on the collection of crucial evidence.

"Nothing is full-proof, this is not a zero-sum game."

The nation's thoughts, prayers and love would be with those risking their safety, he said.

GNS warned the volcano remained at heightened risk, with a 50-60 per cent chance of another eruption in the next 24 hours.

Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner acknowledged a "growing sense of desperation" to bring home loved ones from the island.

The naval vessel HMNZS Wellington steams past White Island off the coast from Whakatane. Photo / Alan Gibson
The naval vessel HMNZS Wellington steams past White Island off the coast from Whakatane. Photo / Alan Gibson

"While we fully appreciate the need for the safety of any recovery team going onto Whakaari / White Island to retrieve our loved ones, we are now living with a growing sense of desperation to bring home those we know are there and those we love."

A grieving relative of Kiwi guide Tipene Maangi, 23, took to social media to describe the family's torment and hit out at authorities for their response.

"Whoever is in charge of stopping search and rescue should be ashamed of yourself.

"We don't care how good you want to look on camera, give permission for the locals, families, to grab our cousin, for those families who lost their loved ones.

"Three days is too long."

Mark Inman, the heartbroken brother of one of the island's victims, wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and asked for permission to stage his own recovery operation of his sibling's body.

Mark's brother Hayden Marshall-Inman was the first victim named after the disaster.

"With the current conditions of sunshine baking and decomposing his body, he's going from a situation where we could have an open casket to now more likely not having a body at all – due to your government's red tape and slow decision making," Inman wrote to Ardern.

In this combo made from two satellite images taken May 12, 2019, left, and Dec. 11, 2019, right, by Maxar Technologies steam rises from the volcano on White Island. Photo / AP
In this combo made from two satellite images taken May 12, 2019, left, and Dec. 11, 2019, right, by Maxar Technologies steam rises from the volcano on White Island. Photo / AP

Due to the heightened risk, rescuers were this morning considering a possible high-speed, in-and-out mission to recover bodies.

But police said then it was not yet safe enough to step foot again on the active volcano.

Senior GNS scientist Graham Leonard told media Whakaari remained "volatile and uncertain" this afternoon.

"Today is no safer than yesterday and the day before," he said.

Increasing tremors had been recorded, as the chance of another eruption escalated.

Leonard pointed to maps which showed the active volcano is surrounded by three bands.

The red zone, bordering immediately around the eruption point on Whakaari / White Island, is a no access zone for GNS staff.

Only in exceptional circumstances would GNS staff enter the yellow zone outside the no access area.

Police announced this morning that two victims had died overnight.

Police did not name the pair, but friends of Australian 33-year-old Jason Griffiths last night released a statement, saying the Coffs Harbour resident was among the victims.

He was travelling with Karla Mathews, 32 and her partner Richard Elzer, who are still missing on White Island and presumed dead.

As the death toll mounts, bodies from other fatal incidents are being sent to Waikato as health authorities try to keep the Auckland mortuary free for victims of the eruption.

A Coronial Services spokesman said the Auckland mortuary had been prepared to receive all deaths relating to White Island.

All post mortems would be carried out in Auckland, he said.

"Some deaths unrelated to the Whakaari/White Island tragedy have been transferred to other mortuaries, namely Waikato.

"This is in line with the Mass Fatality Incident contingency plan."