'Wait for Mother Nature': Last 2 victims of New Zealand's volcano eruption may never be found
The bodies of two people missing and presumed dead since a volcanic eruption in New Zealand killed 18 people apparently were washed out to sea and may never be found, authorities said Wednesday.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said he was “deeply sorry” that the bodies of New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, and Australian tourist Winona Langford, 17, have not been recovered.
“It’s bitterly disappointing for everybody,” Clement said. “The reality is we have to wait for Mother Nature to produce those bodies. It may and it may not.”
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Clement said the bodies likely were swept along a stream and into the Pacific Ocean. One of the missing bodies was briefly detected by an air search, but it disappeared in dangerous swells before it could be extracted, he said.
“We haven’t given up,” Clement said. “But what I am here to do is to signal to everybody that we have reached a phase where we are literally in the hands of the sea.”
White Island Volcano: Newlyweds burned by volcanic eruption on honeymoon cruise
The White Island Volcano, “Whakaari” in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. It erupted Dec. 9, a towering blast of ash and scalding steam that rained down on tourists exploring the island’s moon-like surface.
Two dozen Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were visiting the volcano when it erupted. Many were from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that had left Sydney two days earlier.
More than 20 survivors suffered burns, many of them severe. Ten remained in critical condition more than a week after the eruption.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that official inquiries could take up to a year. WorkSafe, New Zealand’s workplace safety agency, has opened a health and safety investigation to determine, among other things, whether tourists should have been allowed on the island. A coroner also has opened an inquiry, Ardern said.
Criminal penalties of up to five years in jail are possible, Ardern said.
Three weeks before the tragedy, the alert level was raised from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption. GeoNet, the agency monitoring volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, had noted an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. It also said that volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength.
Contributing: Doyle Rice
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Zealand volcano victims: 2 missing bodies may never be recovered