Toxic air, gases hamper search for last 2 volcano victims

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — A second land search of New Zealand's volcanic White Island on Sunday failed to locate the bodies of the last two victims of an eruption that has now claimed 16 lives, most of them tourists.

New Zealand police confirmed the 16th victim died Saturday at Sydney's Concord Hospital, one of several Australian hospitals where survivors suffering from severe burns were being treated.

Ten of the dead are thought to be Australians. Of the 47 people on White Island when it erupted, 24 were Australian citizens and four more were permanent residents of Australia.

Two four-person teams landed on the island by helicopter early Sunday morning and searched a location thought to be the most likely place where one of the bodies might be. The teams, wearing heavy protective clothing, were using breathing apparatus that allowed them to search for only 75 minutes.

They were unable to locate either body and returned to the New Zealand mainland where they underwent decontamination after being exposed to toxic ash and gases.

"We have always anticipated recovering all bodies from the island and we remain deeply committed to that goal to allow families some closure," Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said.

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White Island volcano in New Zealand erupts
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White Island volcano in New Zealand erupts
In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade shows the rescuers' boat leaving White Island following the eruption of the volcano, New Zealand. Officials say on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, 47 people from New Zealand, United States, Australia, Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia were on the New Zealand volcanic island when it suddenly erupted. Of those, dozens were killed, injured or are missing. Details are scarce because conditions on the island are too dangerous for officials to return and disaster victim identification experts have only begun their work. (Michael Schade via AP)
This Dec. 9, 2019, photo made from video and provided by Michael Schade shows the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, rescuers land on White Island following the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
NEW ZEALAND shaded relief map, highlighted, with WELLINGTON (capital) and WHITE ISLAND locators, partial graphic
Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (C) with New Zealand Police Superintendent Bruce Bird (L) and Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner (R) speak to the media about the eruption of Whakaari/White Island during a press conference in Whakatane on December 10, 2019. - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed "unfathomable grief" on December 10 after a volcanic eruption on a popular tourist island that is thought to have claimed 13 lives. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images 2019)
TOPSHOT - Steam rises from the White Island volcano in Whakatane on December 10, 2019, after a volcanic eruption the day before. - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed "unfathomable grief" on December 10 after a volcanic eruption on a popular tourist island that is thought to have claimed 13 lives. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Public look out towards the coast from the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: A women grieves after placing flowers on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Foreign Minister Marise Payne addressing media at Kirribilli House on December 10, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Three Australians are feared amongst the dead and several are injured or missing following a volcanic eruption at White Island in the Bay of Plenty on Monday. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Smoke and ash rises from a volcano on White Island early in the morning on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. Five people are confirmed dead and several people are missing following a volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by John Boren/Getty Images)
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Later Sunday, divers were due to resume their search of waters around the island despite near zero visibility that hampered their efforts on Saturday. Rescue teams had reported seeing a body in the sea a day after Monday's eruption.

Police have not included the two missing — believed to be a New Zealander tour guide and a boat captain who had taken tourists to the island — among the dead until their bodies are recovered. Police meanwhile released the names of five victims who have been formally identified. They include four Australians and one New Zealander.

Among the dead are 15-year-old Zoe Hosking from Australia and her stepfather Gavin Dallow, 53. The first named victim was Krystal Browitt, a veterinary nursing student from Melbourne, Australia, who turned 21 on Nov. 29.

Ash and other fallout from the eruption has made the sea near the island toxic and divers have to be washed clean after every completed dive.

Tims called search conditions “unique and challenging.”

“Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water, ” he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on New Zealanders to observe a minute's silence in memory of victims of the disaster at 2:11 p.m. on Monday, exactly a week from the eruption. Ardern and her Cabinet will pause in silence during their regular meeting at Parliament in Wellington.

Military specialists recovered six bodies on Friday thought to be of Australians, who were most of the visitors to the island when the volcano blew up.

Scientists have warned that White Island, which is the exposed tip of a mostly undersea volcano, is highly volatile, and has been venting steam and mud regularly.

Husband and wife Pratap and Mayuri Singh were confirmed Saturday to be among survivors. The Atlanta couple are recovering from burns in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital where their conditions were listed as stable.

Specialist medical teams were heading to New Zealand from Australia, Britain and the United States. Skin banks were also sending tissue to New Zealand hospitals to use for grafts.

Authorities say 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were on the island at the time. Many were from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that had left Sydney two days earlier.

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McMorran reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

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