Australian woman is first named victim of New Zealand volcano eruption

krystal eve bowitt.jpg
Posted at 7:00 PM, Dec 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-14 20:00:36-05

A 21-year-old Australian woman is the first named victim in New Zealand's White Island volcano eruption that left at least 16 people dead.

Police released the name of Australian Krystal Eve Browitt on Saturday. The young woman was on the island with her sister Stephanie and father Paul, while her mother Marie stayed on board the cruise ship they were holidaying on, according to a Go Fund Me page set up for the family.

The page said: "Paul is in Auckland in a coma in the burns unit, Stephanie is in Christchurch in the burns unit in a coma."

Separately on Saturday, police said another person was missing at sea, presumed dead. Police added that another victim who was being treated at nearby Waikato Hospital had also died, bringing the death toll from Monday's eruption to at least 16.

On Friday, a specialist team recovered six bodies from the volcano, braving hazardous conditions in a risky operation four days after it erupted while 47 people were visiting.

It was the first time authorities have been able to return to White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- since it erupted with little warning.

Earlier in the week, authorities said it was too dangerous to return to the popular tourist spot as the risk of another eruption remains high. There are also chemical and physical hazards on the island.

On Friday, a specialist team of six men and two women spent up to four hours on the island, authorities said. The search team had to wear additional protective safety equipment, which slowed down the recovery process, a police spokeswoman told CNN.

New Zealand's volcano monitoring service GeoNet said Friday that there is still a 50% to 60% chance of another eruption in the next 24 hours. However, authorities decided it was safe enough as there was only a 6% chance of death in any three-hour period with the safety precautions put in place should another eruption occur, said New Zealand Defense Force Col. Rian McKinstry.

"We cannot downplay the risk involved in this operation," he said.

At a press conference, police commissioner Mike Bush praised the work of the recovery team.

"The environment that those staff encountered was unpredictable and challenging, and those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure that those six people were returned to their loved ones," he said. "It's not over yet."

He added that it had been a "traumatic and harrowing" time for the local community and the families who have been directly affected

After news that six bodies had been recovered, there was clapping and signs of relief from the families of those missing, Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said Friday.

"These families are just so appreciative, so ecstatic, so overwhelmed and overjoyed to know that they've got their loved ones back with them," Haumaha told reporters in Whakatane, the town on New Zealand's North Island that is closest to White Island.

The bodies were to be transported to Auckland on Friday for identification.

Almost everyone on the island at the time of the eruption was killed or injured -- and dozens are still undergoing treatment for serious burns.

Specialist burn units in New Zealand are treating 21 people and seven more have been flown to Australia for treatment, health officials said Thursday. New Zealand has ordered 1,292 square feet (120 square meters) of skin to treat patients injured in the eruption, authorities said Wednesday.

White Island, about 48 kilometers (30 miles) off the country's North Island, has been a popular tourist destination in recent years, receiving over 10,000 visitors annually.