The family of a young NSW couple killed when White Island erupted last Monday has revealed their one “great relief” amid the heartbreak over their tragic deaths.
Loved ones of Karla Mathews and her partner Rick Elzer, both 32, have opened up almost a week after the pair was presumed to have died in the deadly volcano blast.
Ms Matthews was formally named by New Zealand Police after her remains were retrieved from the island on Friday. Mr Elzer’s family publicly confirmed his death on Monday night.
At the least, “it has brought our family great relief to know that Rick was with the love of his life Karla Mathews at the time of the eruption and that they were together when they passed,” his family said, in a statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The high school sweethearts had been on a holiday of a lifetime with a group of friends, on board the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship around New Zealand.
Along with fellow passengers, including their close friend Jason Griffiths, Ms Mathews and Mr Elzer went to explore the crater at the popular live volcano tourist attraction.
Authorities will now investigate whether the 47 people on White Island should have been there in the first place, amid questions over what risk assessments took place and whether tour organisers took notice of the eruption threat level.
Among the people on the island, 24 were Australian citizens and four were permanent residents.
After six bodies were retrieved from White Island on Friday, two more remain on the site.
They are local guide Hayden Marshall-Inman and 17-year-old Australian Winona Langford, police confirmed on Tuesday.
Friends of Mr Elzer, Ms Mathews and Mr Griffiths who remained on the Ovation of the Seas ship revealed last week their anguish as they realised the trio had not returned from their day trip.
It emerged that Mr Griffiths had been evacuated and taken to hospital. He died from injuries sustained in the blast, surrounded by family and friends who had rushed to his bedside.
Mr Elzer was remembered as a cherished son, brother, and uncle.
“Together with Karla’s family, we will now be able to bring them home,” the family said.
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The news of his death came just moments before New Zealanders paused for a minute’s silence on Monday to remember the victims exactly one week on from the disaster.
After the confirmation, Mr Elzer’s family observed the minute on board HMNZS Wellington as they looked on the island.
“Our family is absolutely heartbroken and our big sister will be incredibly missed,” the Mathews’ family said in a statement on Monday.
“We have an enormous sense of relief that she has finally been found and we patiently wait with the Elzer family for news of Karla’s partner Rick, so we are able to bring them home together.”
The previously presumed deaths of Anthony and Kristine Langford were also confirmed in the past two days, taking the official toll from the tragedy to 16. It is expected to rise further.
The Langfords’ daughter Winona, 17, remains unaccounted for, while son Jesse, 19, is in hospital.
The Langfords were remembered as “loving parents” to their teenagers and a “wonderful couple”.
“They will be greatly missed by all who knew them.”
Meanwhile, travellers on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship returned to Sydney on Monday morning in a sombre mood a week after the eruption that took the lives of some of their fellow passengers.
One passenger called Joanne became tearful as she talked to reporters at Circular Quay about the passengers who didn’t come home.
“They’re people, people that went on my holiday of a lifetime that I’ve waited 50 years for and they never got to come home … dreadful.”
Another passenger said the people on the ship were left in the dark as the tragedy unfolded.
“I’ve got a son that’s 17 who lost two friends that he made. We didn’t know how many people were missing,” he said.
Three more Australians were confirmed dead by NZ Police on Monday: Jessica Richards, 20, from Brisbane; Mr Griffiths, 33, and Martin Hollander, 48.
Other Australians confirmed dead are: Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15; her stepfather Gavin Dallow, 53; and Mr Hollander’s sons Matthew, 13, and Berend, 16 (both US citizens).
An Australian man, whose family asked that he not be named, died in a Sydney hospital on Sunday.
Another 12 people are being treated in Australian hospitals after being repatriated with severe burns.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne flew to New Zealand on Monday to meet NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. On Tuesday she is expected to continue meeting responders and others who saved lives.