New Zealand military team recovers 6 more bodies after White Island volcano eruption, pushing death toll to 14

Joel Shannon, USA TODAY

Military specialists on New Zealand's White Island have recovered six more victims' bodies after a deadly volcanic eruption, bringing the confirmed death toll to 14.

Two others remain missing and are presumed dead, but Thursday's recovery mission — an arduous affair for military specialists searching under the threat of another eruption — did not find them.

The effort began Friday morning local time after a blessing was held at sea with representatives of the families of the victims, a statement from New Zealand police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said

Recovered bodies were airlifted to a ship near the island, which held scientists, police and other military personnel involved in the mission. 

At least one body is in the surrounding waters, said Police Commissioner Mike Bush, and police divers continued to search in the afternoon. Aerial crews will also try to locate the victims, who are believed to be a tour guide and the captain of a boat that had taken tourists to the island. 

"We are making every effort to locate and recover the two remaining deceased," Bush said in a statement. 

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Police said another operation will be needed at a later time to recover other bodies.

The mission called for eight specialists to recover the bodies of eight victims. Those believed fatalities are in addition to the official death toll of the eruption, which stood at eight before the mission.

The operation took longer than expected due to the heavy protective gear worn by the team, a police statement issued Friday at 9:15 a.m. local time says.

Previous statements noted the complexity of the mission.

"A lot has to go right for us tomorrow to make this work," a release from New Zealand police reads.

"There is no zero risk option in regard to the plan but we have carefully considered it. We don’t expect the risk to change tonight or tomorrow but we have planned for it."

Previously this week, the volcano's continued venting delayed plans by authorities to recover the bodies. Scientists believe another eruption is possible.

Volcanologist Nico Fournier warned earlier that the volcano remained “highly volatile.” 

Police believe 47 visitors were on the island at the time of the eruption, 24 of them Australian, nine Americans, five New Zealanders and others from Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

There are numerous factors affecting the mission, including rain in the weather forecast, which appeared be a factor in speeding up the planned recovery efforts.

Rain mixing with the island's heavy volcanic ash could encase the bodies in a cement-like substance. Previously, police had said a methodical approach was needed to preserve evidence and help identify victims.

"My concerns remain the weather, the direction of the wind, the sea state because they all bring risk and add complexity," Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said.

Two teenage brothers with ties to the Chicago area are among the victims of the eruption, multiple media outlets have reported.

According to the Chicago Tribune, 16-year-old Berend Hollander and 13-year-old Matthew Hollander died after being taken to a hospital. 

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Zealand volcano eruption: 6 bodies recovered in risky mission