Three more Australians have been confirmed dead after Monday’s volcanic eruption on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday night released a statement from the six travelling companions of Coffs Harbour couple Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, and friend Jason Griffiths.
The group of nine was holidaying on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship when Mr Griffiths, Ms Mathews and Mr Elzer joined a tour to the active volcano.
Ms Mathews and her partner Mr Elzer are among eight bodies believed to be still on the island, where authorities say there is no sign of life.
Mr Griffiths died in hospital on Wednesday night after suffering burns to 80 per cent of his body.
“Some time later, we discovered that two of our friends, Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, were still on the island,” Alex, Daniel, Ellie, Leanne, Paul and Samantha said in the statement issued by DFAT.
“We have been advised that there are no signs of life on the island.
“We then located our third friend, Jason Griffiths, in a hospital in the early hours of the next morning. From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members.
“We are incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends.”
They are among seven Australians identified as victims of the deadly eruption, which also claimed the lives of two local tour guides.
Earlier on Wednesday, the first Australian victims killed in the White Island eruption were identified as Brisbane mother Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica.
The family of Ms Richards, 47, and her daughter, 20, was “united in grief” after receiving news they had died in Monday’s eruption, friend John Mickel said.
“You obviously live in hope that’s it not going to be your loved one’s name that comes up, but the hope was snuffed out this morning with the message from the New Zealand police,” he said.
“Now we have the festive season, which will be celebrated by so many Queenslanders, but for this family it will be one of deep poignancy.”
Police also identified the body of Adelaide man Gavin Dallow, 53.
His 15-year-old stepdaughter Zoe Hosking is presumed dead, with her body on the island.
Adelaide mother Lisa Dallow, who was critically injured, has burns to 57 per cent of her body and is in an induced coma, her husband’s sister has told the ABC.
Ms Dallow, 48, was found alive in a hospital in Hamilton on Tuesday.
Victorian woman Krystal Browitt is also presumed to be dead, bringing the death toll to nine.
Two Sydney families are also unaccounted for, while around a dozen Australians are in hospital, some with critical injuries from the toxic ash and volcanic gases following the eruption.
Retrieval efforts frustrated
Efforts to reach the island were effectively called off on Wednesday after GNS Science said tremors indicated that there was a 40 to 60 per cent chance of an eruption within 24 hours.
John Tims from NZ Police said police intended to return to the island “when there are no risks [of “serious physical and chemical hazards”] and the risks can be managed”.
It follows news that three air force planes have been sent to New Zealand to bring home 10 injured Australians caught up in the deadly volcano explosion.
The military transport planes are expected to bring home the injured to New South Wales and Victoria within 24 hours.
A doctor would still have to give the patients the green light to travel based on the severity of their injuries.
Burns units working ‘non-stop’
The news came after Kiwi health authorities confirmed they need 1.2 million square centimetres of skin to heal survivors at the country’s four specialist burns units – Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital (11), Christchurch (eight), Waikato (six) and Hutt Valley (four).
Counties Manukau Health chief medical officer Peter Watson said the units are caring for 29 survivors.
“We currently have supply but are urgency sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand addressing temporary skin grafts,” Dr Watson said.
“These supplies are coming from the United States and the order has been placed.”
Dr Watson said the combination of volcanic gases had necessitated more “rapid surgical treatment” than everyday burns.
“Our surgical teams … have been working around the clock, non-stop to expedite the initial surgical treatment of the patients,” he said.
“This is just the start of a very long process for some patients for last several months.”
The Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria and the New South Wales Organ and Tissue Donation Service have both sent 10,000 square centimetres of allograft skin.
— anna thomas (@annathomas2020) December 10, 2019
In a rare spot of good news, Jesse Langford, from Sydney, was found alive on Wednesday
The 19-year-old was thought to have been killed with three other members of his family. His condition is unknown at present, as he recuperates in hospital.
New Zealand police have contacted the families and loved ones of all 47 people who were on White Island during Monday’s volcanic eruption, but face major challenges to fully identify bodies and injured survivors.
The nature of the eruption on the island meant survivor ingested ash and volcanic gases, resulting in horrific injuries.
“There are a number of people in hospital who cannot communicate because they have significant burns not only to skin but to internal organs,” NZ Police Minister Stuart Nash told Radio NZ.
“They cannot speak … or communicate.”
Australians affected (at 10.35pm AEDT Wednesday)
- From Melbourne: Krystal Browitt, 21, missing;
- Sydney, NSW: Anthony and Kristine Langford, and daughter Winona, 17, unaccounted for;
- The Hollander family – father Martin, 48, wife Barbara and two teenage sons believed aged 13-14 and 16-17, are missing;
- Marion London, 56, and husband Nick are in hospital with severe burns.