Six of the eight bodies yet to be retrieved from Whakaari lie on the island and can be seen by air, according to police specialists.

One has been seen in the water and the eighth is unaccounted for.

This was information shared at a meeting at the Whakatāne Sport Fishing Club this morning hosted by Harbourmaster Isaac Tait.

Tait is arguably one of the most knowledgeable people about Whakaari – his parents Peter and Jenny Tait started White Island Tours and he skippered tour boats for several years.


The 10am meeting was held for local charter boat and commercial operators. Tait confirmed the meeting took place but would not elaborate any further.

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Phil van Dusschoten, who operated Diveworks Charters, was at the meeting and described it as extremely informative.

"We had senior members of the police, members of the police disaster victim identification team and also some of the crew from Deodar, the police launch," van Dusschoten said.

"They shared with us the need for specialist equipment to remove bodies and said it was on its way."

He said the DVI spokesman explained why police were not able to just "go and get the bodies".

"We were told as well as the alert level 2, the ash and the contamination from the eruption is extremely toxic and releasing noxious gases. Standard breathing equipment has been trialled on the island and blocks up quickly and the noxious gases are able to penetrate the apparatus."

Van Dusschoten said at best, there was only 20 to 30 minutes of air supply and the DVI teams needed longer than that for retrieval.


"The most important thing for them (DVI) is the correct identification of bodies. They explained the best way to do this was to gather as much physical evidence from on, in and around the bodies and, to do this, they needed more than 20 to 30 minutes.

"They made it clear it's not just a matter of grabbing bodies but said each body needed to be handled with care."

He said specialists talked about being very aware of emergencies such as 9/11 when, two years after the tragedy, first responders and emergency workers were becoming very ill.

"They told us staff would be fully encapsulated in the equipment and would be able to do their jobs."

Also in attendance was a skipper of one of the White Island Tour boats out on the water that day.

David Plews, who had been on the water for many years and was credited for saving lives when one of the White Island Tours vessels caught fire in 2016, realised something was wrong and radioed an immediate evacuation of the island.

Within three seconds of making the call, the volcano erupted.

Van Dusschoten said he asked police representatives if the bodies would be bought back to Whakatāne before being transported to Auckland, saying this was something the town needed for some sort of closure.

"We were told they would do their best to see this happen."