The remains of two people still missing in wake of a deadly volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island were likely washed out to sea and may never be recovered, authorities said.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement on Wednesday said he was “deeply sorry” that the bodies of 40-year-old New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman and 17-year-old Australian tourist Winona Langford have not yet been found.
Authorities believe both bodies are in the waters surrounding the island, but inclement conditions on Tuesday forced them to abandon search efforts for second straight day. Despite the harsh weather, rescue crews intend to continue their search for Marshall-Inman and Langford for a few days more.
“The reality is we have to wait for Mother Nature to produce those bodies, and it may and it may not,” Clement told reporters during an afternoon news conference. “We are literally in the hands of the sea.”
Based on tidal patterns, its likely the bodies washed out to sea — toward New Zealand’s East Cape, CNN reported. Still, it’s possible the missing remains will never make landfall and only drift farther out to the Southern Ocean, Clement noted.
Almost all 47 people — nine of them American tourists — present on the island were either killed or injured when the volcano erupted around 2 p.m. on Dec. 9. Five people were confirmed dead immediately after the blast and another four succumbed to their injuries in wake of the eruption.
Authorities on Friday recovered six of the eight people missing in wake of the deadly blast. The official fatality count stood at 15 on Wednesday and the presumed dead at 17.
More than 20 survivors suffered serious burns, many of them severe. Another 10 remained in critical condition this week.
Langford’s brother, Jesse, is among the injured currently recovering from severe burns at a hospital in Sydney. Both of her parents, Anthony and Kristine Langford, were confirmed dead by family members in wake of the blast.
New Zealand police on Tuesday released the names of three more people who died in the eruption, including 49 year-old Barbara Hollander as well as a pair of Australians — 32-year-old Richard Elzer and 47-year-old Julie Richards.