An Australian died in hospital today, bringing the death toll so far to 16 from the New Zealand volcano tragedy.
Five patients remain in a critical condition in Sydney and three more in Melbourne.
Six bodies were snatched by a special forces helicopter from White Island on Friday, scene of the flash eruption that took the lives of tourists and guides and left almost 40 in hospital.
Another two bodies remain on the island, and a recovery operation Sunday failed to bring them home.
A minute’s silence in memory of victims of the disaster will take place on Monday at 2.11pm local time (12.11pm AEDT), which marks exactly one week since the eruption.
“Wherever you are in New Zealand, or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
A total of 24 Australians, many from the Royal Caribbean cruise shipOvation of the Seas,were on the island at the time of the eruption.
Under tremendous pressure from local families and despite the risk of another eruption, New Zealand emergency workers attempted the dangerous retrieval early on Friday.
Drones and heat seeking detection units were used, and the bodies were flown to military frigate HMNZS Wellington anchored off the coast.
The monitoring agency GNS Science warned there was a 50 to 60 per cent chance of a further eruption, and an update issued during the mission said the “level of volcanic tremor has dropped but remains very high compared to pre-eruption levels”.
Family representatives and Maori community members held a moving service close to the island after travelling from Bay of Plenty.
Defence Secretary Marise Payne said the six bodies recovered were still being formally identified but the expectation was that all six were Australian. “I think it is difficult to say in advance of the formal process but we know, and we have been advised by authorities, that that is expected to be the case, yes,” she said.
Sydney North Shore residents Martin Hollander, 48, and his wife Barbara, 50, are among the dead. Tragically, two teenage sons, Ben and Matthew Hollander, students at Sydney high school Knox Grammar, died in hospital earlier this week.
In a statement reported on news.com.au, Barbara’s parents Larry and Norma Noesen said: “We are together with our family grieving the loss of our loved ones. Our amazing daughter Barbara Hollander and our son-in-law Martin Hollander were a wonderful couple and parents to our grandsons, Ben (16) and Matthew (13),” the couple said.
“We appreciate all the support and contact from our friends and family. During this trying time we ask for privacy as we process all the tragic events that have occurred. A memorial service will be planned for the summer/fall of 2020.”
As the days activities continued, investigators were interviewing personnel in a bid to find out whether tourists should have been allowed onto the island, and what lessons can be learned from the tragedy.
Ovation of the Seas is due back in Sydney on Monday. Royal Caribbean issued a statement earlier in the week saying:
“The news from White Island is devastating. The details that are emerging are heartbreaking. We are working to help our guests and the authorities in the aftermath of this tragedy in any way we can.
“We are communicating with our guests and their families. We’re making sure they are taken care of in terms of medical help, counselling, accommodations, and transport. Our hearts go out to them, and we want to be as supportive as we can.
“Staff from our Sydney and Auckland offices office are already on-site, and we’re going to be offering all our resources while this terrible tragedy sorts out.
“We are grateful for the work of all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime minister and her team, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind thoughts and prayers.”
Family members concerned about the status of relatives traveling aboard Ovation of the Seas may inquire by calling the following numbers: