The NZDF mission to recover the Whakaari dead

By Te Ao - Māori News
An NH90 multi purpose helicopter / Source - NZDF

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) have issued a statement of their mission to recover the six bodies that were retrieved from Whakaari today. They are actively supporting the work to recover the two bodies that are yet to be retrieved.

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral (RADM) Jim Gilmour said the thoughts of all those involved in the recovery operation today were with the victims and their loved ones.

“We cannot downplay the risk involved in this operation and I acknowledge the efforts of all those who placed themselves potentially in danger to achieve a result for the families and community.

“We acknowledge the leadership of the New Zealand Police and other agencies involved in the recovery operations to date, as well as the heroic efforts of medical staff across New Zealand treating survivors,’’ RADM Gilmour says.

Whakaari’s conditions and terrain are not without their dangers, and the NZDF had plans in place to leave the volcano quickly if it erupted again.

“We had go/no-go criteria before carrying out the recovery operation,” RADM Gilmour says.

The recovery team included six NZDF Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialists and a ground commander, with medical staff on small boats nearby.

EOD specialists are well experienced at working in environments with hazardous chemical compounds. This made them ideal for working in Whakaari’s conditions.

“Our personnel feel a keen sense of duty and join to serve New Zealand. It is this sense of duty that sees them willing to undertake operations like this, understanding the risks involved.’’

The ground team worked in pairs to move the deceased people to a central location, where a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter transported the bodies to HMNZS Wellington, which was stationed a short distance from the island.

“We are acutely aware that while there has been some resolution for the families of the six identified deceased on the island, the families of two others are still waiting to have their loved ones returned to them, and we will continue to support New Zealand Police efforts to recover the two deceased,’’ RADM Gilmour concludes.

A summary of the NZDF's support work at Whakaari is below.

  • Air surveillance by the P3K2 Orion and NH90 Helicopter support, including for patient transfers on Monday night, and air transport including by A109 helicopter.
  • HMNZS Wellington and the Royal New Zealand Navy’s SH2G Seasprite helicopters, which had carried out surveillance and support.
  • Personnel from the New Zealand Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal squadron with their specialist hazardous material equipment and training.
  • Mortuary affairs and disaster victim identification teams assisting civil authorities in Whakatāne and Auckland.
  • Personnel from the Deployable Joint Interagency Task Force who have performed command and control functions in support of the recovery efforts.