New Zealand volcano: Australian woman is first victim to be named

Krystal Browitt (21) was on White Island with her father and sister when eruption occurred

Krystal Browitt (21) was on a family holiday when she was killed in the White Island eruption. Photograph: Facebook

Krystal Browitt (21) was on a family holiday when she was killed in the White Island eruption. Photograph: Facebook

 

A 21-year-old Australian woman has become the first victim of the White Island volcano eruption in New Zealand to be formally identified from the six people whose bodies were recovered from the island on Friday.

Krystal Browitt was on the island with her sister Stephanie and her father Paul when the volcano erupted.

Stephanie is in a coma in hospital with her mother, Marie, who stayed on board their cruise ship instead of taking the volcano trip, at her bedside.

Paul Browitt is being treated for burns in hospital in Melbourne.

The announcement on Saturday evening came as police and navy divers returned to the waters around the island where authorities are increasingly convinced a seventh and eighth body could be found following Monday’s volcanic eruption.

New Zealand divers searched contaminated waters near the volcanic White Island on Saturday in an attempt to retrieve two remaining bodies, following a fatal eruption earlier this week, said police.

Waters around the island were contaminated by the massive eruption of rocks, lava and chemicals on Monday, reducing visibility.

Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand, Saturday, December 14th. Photograph: New Zealand Police via AP
Police divers prepare to search the waters near White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand, Saturday, December 14th. Photograph: New Zealand Police via AP

The death toll from the eruption stands at 14, but may rise with many victims in intensive care with severe burns.

Deputy commissioner John Tims, the Wellington-based operations commander, warned anxious families and loved ones that the “process is stringent and can take some time”.

“This is a long and complex process and we are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families,” he said.

Some 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, were on the island when the volcano erupted on Monday.

But there was no resumption of the ground search on Saturday as authorities consider the next steps in their retrieval operation.

Royal New Zealand Navy search personnel during a recovery operation on White Island (Whakaari), New Zealand, December 13th. Photograph: Royal New Zealand Navy/EPA
Royal New Zealand Navy search personnel during a recovery operation on White Island (Whakaari), New Zealand, December 13th. Photograph: Royal New Zealand Navy/EPA

Eight were killed close to the crater and the retrieval of those bodies has been the focus of a joint police-defence mission.

The high-stakes recovery operation from the ash-covered surface flew out six bodies on Friday, much to the relief of families.

Police have vowed to continue their search until all eight bodies have been recovered.

“The assurance that we give to family and whanau [extended community] is that we will continue to put every effort into locating the remaining two missing,” police commissioner Mike Bush said.

Deputy commissioner Mike Clement said there were nine divers in the water.

“We learned some stuff yesterday as a result of being on the island,” he said. “The purpose of the planning day today (Saturday) is to work through the scenarios with that eighth person, where they could be.

In a statement released on Saturday, geological agency GeoNet said there was a 35 per cent to 50 per cent risk of an eruption that would impact beyond the volcano’s vent area in the next 24 hours. A decrease from the 50 per cent and 60 per cent risk announced on Friday.

The volcano, a popular tourist destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people on the island at the time were Australian, US, German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists.

The death toll from the eruption is now at 14.

More than two dozen people are in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.

There has been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given signs of increasing tremor activity in the days before the eruption. - Agencies