New Zealand volcano eruption death toll rises to 18 as body search continues

Divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (New Zealand Police via AP)
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Updated 15 December 2019

New Zealand volcano eruption death toll rises to 18 as body search continues

  • A land search early Sunday failed to find any sign of bodies and divers returned to the sea in the afternoon
  • Disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels

WELLINGTON: The death toll from New Zealand’s White Island volcano eruption rose to 18 Sunday, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered, police said.
A land search early Sunday failed to find any sign of the missing pair and divers returned to the sea in the afternoon amid increasing speculation both could be in the water.
Deputy police commissioner Mike Clement said there was “every chance” the bodies had been washed into the sea from the stream where they were last seen Monday.
He added that searchers were “satisfied that the area we searched near the jetty is clear of the bodies.”
“The rescue teams are frustrated. We understand completely how frustrating it is for loved ones who want the bodies back,” Clement said.
Forty-seven people were on the island — a popular tourist attraction — when the explosion happened.
The death toll now stands at 18 after an Australian victim who had been repatriated to Sydney died in hospital almost a week after the deadly eruption.
Another 26 survivors remain in New Zealand and Australian hospitals, of which 20 are listed as “critical” and fighting for their lives after the eruption on the desolate island, which is the country’s most active volcano.
The family of the latest victim have requested his name and age not be released.
Police on Sunday named seven victims who have been officially identified including New Zealand tour guide Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi, 24.
Four were Australians — Zoe Ella Hosking, 15, her stepfather Gavin Brian Dallow, 53, 51-year-old Anthony James Langford and Karla Michelle Mathews, 32 — along with Matthew Robert Hollander, 13 and Berend Lawrence Hollander, 16, who were US citizens with Australian permanent residency.
Clement said although the land and sea searches had so far been unsuccessful in finding the remaining bodies, police had not given up hope.
“There will come a time when we’ve done everything we can do, when we’ve done everything that’s sensible but we’re not there yet... we don’t give up easily,” he said.
Scientists monitoring White Island said there had been no further significant activity since last Monday’s eruption but the risk remained.
A glow was visible from the vent area overnight “which confirms there is a high heat flow present,” said Geoff Kilgour, a volcanologist with GNS Science, which monitors seismic and volcanic activity in New Zealand.
“This has been confirmed today by an aerial observation this morning that noted an active crater is emitting volcanic gas at a high rate and very high temperature” above 200 Celsius.
The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels.


Afghan security forces fail to reach ‘Taliban-mined’ site of US military plane crash

Updated 28 January 2020

Afghan security forces fail to reach ‘Taliban-mined’ site of US military plane crash

  • Probe launched into cause of Monday’s incident as Taliban claim responsibility for shooting down jet

KABUL: Afghan security forces have so far been unable to reach the crash site of a US military aircraft which went down during a mission on Monday in a Taliban-controlled area of the country.
An investigation is underway to determine what caused the Bombardier E-11A plane to crash in the Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, about 120 km southwest of Kabul, although the Taliban have claimed responsibility for shooting it down.

“The Taliban have mined the area, and security forces could not make it to the site to retrieve the bodies and recover the aircraft last evening. The Taliban had laid an ambush as security forces tried to reach the site,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni’s provincial council, told Arab News.
He added that other US aircraft had attempted to land in the area overnight but were forced back due to bad weather.
Aref Noori, a spokesman for Ghanzi’s governor, said: “Afghan and foreign forces are preparing a joint plan to go to the site to see what they can do.”
Authorities have yet to determine how many passengers and crew were on board.
Several members of the provincial council said they had heard from locals that four people on board the plane had escaped the site of the crash soon after it came down. However, the reports could not be confirmed by the US military or other officials.
The crash comes amid a push by the Taliban and US diplomats to restart peace talks which are aimed at ending the 18-year-old conflict in the country.