By Helene Fung
An elite squad of seven from the New Zealand Defence Force braved poisonous gases and the risk of more eruptions to carry out a mission on the White Island volcano on Friday and recovered the bodies of six killed in Monday’s eruption.
For protection from the gases, each soldier wore a full-body hazmat suit and closed-circuit breathing apparatus – which on a warm day meant the temperatures in the suits over 30 degrees Celsius, and they had to fight against heat stress.
By Saturday morning, the first victim had been identified as Melbourne woman Krystal Eve Browitt, aged 21.
Meanwhile, the search continues and divers identified at least one body in the waters not far from the shore, which leaves only one victim’s body unaccounted for.
Conditions were far from optimal, and water visibility was less than 2 metres.
“The water around the island is contaminated, requiring the divers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, including using specialist protective equipment,” said Deputy Commissioner John Tims.
New Zealand’s Coronial Services is using biological information such as DNA samples and fingerprints, as well as any recorded personal effects to try to identify the remaining bodies.