Police have outlined the process they will have to follow to identify the six bodies so far recovered from Whakaari/White Island, which arrived in Auckland yesterday afternoon.

The Coroner must confirm the victims' identities.

"The victims and their families are our priority but we also have important obligations," said Deputy Commissioner John Tims, National Operations Commander.

"We must work on behalf of the Coroner to ensure correct identification. It would be unforgivable to get the identification process wrong".

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There are five stages to the victim identification process. These are:

Phase 1: Scene

The deceased are examined and documented before being taken to the mortuary.


Phase 2: Mortuary

They are examined in detail by a pathologist, forensic dentist, fingerprint officer and the police DVI team.

Personal effects (such as jewellery and clothing) are photographed then examined, cleaned, re-photographed and secured. Information about the person is brought in from outside.

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Phase 3: Ante-mortem Information retrieval

Police gather information about possible victims, such as descriptions of appearance, clothing, jewellery, photos, medical and dental records, x-rays, fingerprints, from objects or official records (commonly collected by some overseas agencies) and DNA samples (such as from a hairbrush, toothbrush or blood sample).

Phase 4: Reconciliation

Information from post-mortem and ante-mortem phases are brought together to find a match.

At an identification hearing, the Coroner is presented evidence of the match by fingerprint, dentistry, DNA and Police DVI experts and decides if identification has been established.

Family and/or foreign authorities are advised, then media.

Phase 5: Debrief

People involved in the DVI process keep each other updated throughout all stages.

Support and welfare is made available to staff. This includes stress and grief counsellors, chaplains, Victim Support and police welfare officers.

Six bodies arrive at Whenuapai airbase on Friday afternoon. Photo / Michael Craig
Six bodies arrive at Whenuapai airbase on Friday afternoon. Photo / Michael Craig

The process involves police disaster victim identification (DVI) experts, forensic pathologists, ESR, odontologists and the Coroner's office.

An internationally approved process was being followed, police said in a statement this morning. The process was stringent and could take some time.

"This is a long and complex process and we are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families," Tims said.

Police lead the DVI process through the gathering of evidence and working with families of those who are missing.