The bodies of two people missing after a volcano erupted on New Zealand’s White Island last week likely washed out to sea and may never be found, police said Wednesday.
White Island, also known as Whakaari, erupted on December 9 while 47 people were visiting the volcano, which is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. At least 16 people were killed and two others remain unaccounted for.
They are Australian tourist Winona Langford, 17, and New Zealander Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, who was a tour guide.
Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told a news conference on Wednesday that a dive squad and helicopters will continue to search for the two missing bodies for a day or two longer.
“The reality is we have to wait for Mother Nature to produce those bodies, and it may and it may not. And the reality is, we’ll be here if it does,” he said. “We are literally in the hands of the sea.”
Clement said police believe the bodies were near a stream on the island. Based on tidal patterns, the bodies may have washed out to sea, likely towards New Zealand’s East Cape, he said.
But there’s no guarantee the bodies will make landfall – they may drift out to the Southern Ocean, he added.
On Friday last week, authorities recovered the bodies of six of the eight people who were missing following the eruption. Two other members of the Langford family died in the eruption, and another remains in hospital in Australia, according to police.
Marshall-Inman’s brother Mark Inman has expressed frustration with the decision not to return to the island sooner. For days after the eruption, New Zealand authorities said it was too dangerous to return to the island as there was a risk of another eruption.
People from all over the world were caught up in the eruption, which happened with little warning.
Of the victims who have been named, two are New Zealand citizens, and 15 are either Australian citizens or permanent residents of that country.
As of Monday, 14 people remained in hospital around New Zealand, with 10 in a critical condition. Last week, 13 patients were transferred to hospitals in Australia, although one person later died.
Questions have been raised over how safe it was for tourists to be on the island, and whether more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.