White Island owners “devastated by tragic event”

Five people are dead and eight are still missing after White Island erupted on Monday at 2.11pm. Photo: ARHT.

The Buttle family, who have own White Island since 1936, are asking that a rahui placed on the island now be respected.

Whakaari Trust, which owns White Island, has released a statement expressing their "heartfelt sympathies and condolences to those affected by the eruption of Whakaari/White Island".

The Trust is managed by Whakaari Management Limited which comprises three directors who are also brothers: James Buttle, Andrew Buttle and Peter Buttle.

Speaking from Whakatāne, trust spokesperson Peter Buttle says his family have owned the island for over 80 years and are devastated by the tragic event.

“We are all shocked by what has occurred on Whakaari yesterday and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy.

“We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island. Their efforts have been both courageous and extraordinary.”

Whakaari/White Island was bought by the brothers’ grandfather, George Raymond (Ray) Buttle in 1936 after mining operations on the island ended in bankruptcy.

The island was passed on to Ray’s son John Buttle and it has remained in the Buttle family ever since.

The family has witnessed tourism to Whakaari increase steadily over the past 30 years and the island has become a major international tourist attraction in the Bay of Plenty.

“That we now have had a tragic event with devastating consequences leaves us absolutely heartbroken. Our thoughts are with the families of those affected, as well as the wider Whakatāne community.”

Work continues on recovery operation + clarification on Police investigation"

Police continue to work on the recovery operation following yesterday’s fatal eruption on Whakaari/White Island.

"Today, police have been working with Defence and Fire and Emergency New Zealand to determine conditions on the island including, gas levels in the atmosphere, so that we can understand the nature of the current conditions," says a police spokesperson.

This will involve the deployment of drones carrying specialist measuring equipment in order to collect and analyse gas levels.

"This data and information will inform the next steps we are able to take. 

"Windy conditions this afternoon have meant drones have been unable to be deployed yet, but they will be as soon as conditions allow.

"We are continuing to take advice from scientific experts including from GNS Science, who are considering three aspects of the recovery operation:

  •   •  the condition on the island,

  •   •  the requirements those going on the island will need,

  •   •  and the care and transportation of the bodies when they are recovered.  

"We understand people’s desire to recover their loved ones and we are working around the clock to get onto the island so we can recover them as soon as possible."

Based on the effects of the eruption on the bodies, this recovery will need to be handled with expert skill and care, says police.

Police are in a position to confirm the nationalities and numbers of the 47 people who were on the time of the island.

There were:

  •   •  24 people from Australia

  •   •  Two people from China

  •   •  Four people from Germany

  •   •  One person from Malaysia

  •   •  Five people from New Zealand

  •   •  Two people from the United Kingdom

  •   •  Nine people from the United States of America

There are five confirmed fatalities, and eight people missing and presumed deceased.

The bodies of the five confirmed deceased are being transported to Auckland today, so post-mortems can be carried out tomorrow.

"We are working to confirm the identities of those involved, including those who have died and who are injured.

"We are working through a complex Disaster Victim Identification process.

"The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter.

"We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible, to return those who have died to their loved ones.

"Police can also confirm we have commenced an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries on Whakaari/White Island."

The Terms of Reference will be developed in the coming days. 

At this time, police are investigating the death of the individuals on Whakaari/White Island on behalf of the Coroner.

"To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.  

"The Police investigation on behalf of the Coroner will be carried out in parallel with a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation."

WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the eruption.

As the workplace health and safety regulator and administrator of the Adventure Activities Regulations, WorkSafe will be investigating and considering all of the relevant work health and safety issues surrounding this tragic event.

"We will continue to provide information and updates as quickly as we are able to."

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