New Zealand troops launched a perilous dawn mission Friday to recover bodies from a volcanic island that is threatening to erupt again.
Two military helicopters set off from Whakatane at first light for White Island, the volcano off the North Island where an eruption last Monday is believed to have resulted in at least 16 deaths.
At the same time, police took grieving families out near the island on a boat and a Maori blessing was performed.
Authorities say eight bodies remain on the volcano and — after coming under pressure from distraught families — they approved a recovery mission despite a 50-60 percent chance it will explode again in the next day or so.
Vulcanologists will monitor live feeds of seismic activity from the still-mouldering volcano as the eight-strong military team attempt to extract the bodies, ready to call off the operation if signs point to another eruption.
“Of course I’m worried, I would be inhuman if I did not worry,” deputy police commissioner Mike Clement said when he outlined the plan late Thursday, adding “we have a job to do”.
With the help of drone flights and helicopter pilots who were near the volcano immediately after the eruption, authorities have located six of the eight bodies on the island.
The plan is to immediately recover the six bodies and search for the other two, then transport them to military frigate HMNZS Wellington anchored off the coast, Clement said.
The operation is expected to take several hours.