As questions are asked over why tourists were allowed to visit Whakaari/White Island just prior to its fatal eruption, New Zealand Police have confirmed the launch of a criminal investigation into the deaths and injuries caused by the event.
Deputy police commissioner John Tims told media late this afternoon the terms of reference would be decided on in the coming days, Radio New Zealand reported.
Last photos: here are the White Island Tour operators rescuing people, timestamp 14:24 (~12-14 minutes after eruption). Endless gratitude to that crew for stepping up as first responders.— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
I took these and reporters welcome to use with attribution. pic.twitter.com/ITmY1jCezr
Whakaari/White Island erupted yesterday afternoon while 47 people were on the island, including 37 passengers and one crew member from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
Five people have been confirmed deceased, eight are missing and 31 are in hospitals. Twenty four Australians are among those who were near the volcano when it erupted.
Mr Tims said there also nine people from USA, five people from New Zealand, four people from Germany, two people from China, two people from UK, and one person from Malaysia on the island.
Whakat?ne man and White Island Tours guide Hayden Marshall-Inman guide is the first confirmed casualty of the incident.
An NZDF ship went to fly drones at the island, but according to RNZ, police said there were no signs of survivors after the eruption.
On 18 November, the alert level for the volcano rose to two on a 0-5 scale, indicating “moderate volcanic unrest”.
But Paul Quinn, chair of Ng?ti Awa Holdings, which owns White Island Tours, said the alert level for volcanic activity was in the company’s guidelines when it visited the island yesterday.
"GNS do the monitoring, and they advise us if there are any changes, and we operate around their guidelines in terms of what levels are stipulated,” he said.
"Level 3 and above we liaise more directly with GNS but that level 2 is still within our operational guidelines."
A Sydney family of four - parents Anthony and Kristine Langford, son Jesse and daughter Winona - along with Brisbane mother Julie Richards and daughter Jessica - who were passengers onboard Ovation - are among those missing, the ABC reported.
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