The wait to identify the Australians and others caught up in New Zealand’s volcano disaster continues, as anxious families and loved ones seek news following Whakaari’s eruption.

The natural disaster has killed six people, with another eight people presumed dead after they were unable to escape White Island.

Police have stated their primary objective is to return the bodies from the island to their families and they are waiting for the environment to be stable enough to visit Whakaari for the retrieval operation.

They have scotched the notion that those left on the island could be saved, saying they believed “anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation”.

Paramedic Rusty Clarke was on board a helicopter that flew to White Island on a rescue mission shortly after the eruption.

He likened the ashened landscape he saw to that of a nuclear explosion.

“Looking down on it, I would have to describe it as Chernobyl,” he told Radio NZ.


“It was just a complete, absolute whiteout of the area involved.

“It was quite a daunting experience seeing that initial landscape.”

Clarke said first responders often took a mental hit from their efforts.

“It becomes pretty overwhelming emotionally pretty quickly. When you combine the potential for injury and loss of life, it’s quite an ordeal,” he said.

“We’ve got a job to do. But we’re all family.

“You can’t help feel empathy and just the sheer magnitude of it.”


While the emergency began on White Island, the focus quickly shifted to nearby Whakatane as the base for the rescue and support operation.

By Tuesday, the load had been shared across a string of hospitals.

Kiwi officials made the decision to airlift at least 31 injured across the country, ensuring each patient could be seen by specialists within burns units as far away as Christchurch.

The dispersal has complicated the identification process and the communication of those names to the public.

NZ police have committed to releasing more information as soon as they can.

“We are working to confirm the identities of those involved … the nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and (that) means identifying them is a complex matter,” a statement read.


“We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible, to return those who have died to their loved ones.”