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Expert team working to identify eruption victims

White Island erupting on Monday. Photo: NZ Police.

Following the deaths of six people in the Whakaari/White Island eruption on Monday, a significant operation to identify and return the deceased to their loved ones has begun.

The Chief Coroner has declared this to be a mass fatality incident.

Together with Police DVI experts, forensic pathologists, ESR and odontologists the Coroner’s office will proceed with identifying victims and releasing loved ones to families.

An internationally approved process for disaster management identification (DVI) is being followed.

Police lead the DVI process through the gathering of evidence and working with families of those who are missing. The Coroner must then confirm the victims’ identities.  

“The highest standards are set to ensure the victims are correctly identified and returned to their loved ones,” says Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall.

“We will gather information from post-mortem examinations, and also any ante-mortem information (information from when they were alive) to ensure people are identified correctly.”

Police and the Coroner are working closely with international agencies to help facilitate the identification and notification process as quickly and accurately as possible.

The bodies of those confirmed deceased have been taken to Auckland for the post-mortem process.

“We are conscious of returning loved ones to their families, wherever their families are, as soon as possible. We believe the expertise and numbers of pathologists based in Auckland can help ensure the process is smooth, accurate, and as swift as possible."

The names of those who have died will be released when formal identification has been completed.

Any deaths in hospital may not require post-mortems as the cause of death is recorded by the hospitals and those victims may have been identified prior.

“Depending on how long it takes to retrieve the deceased from the island, it could be some weeks before all the deceased are identified,” said Judge Marshall. 

Business as usual for the Coroner continues under Deputy Chief Coroner Shortland.

Deaths unrelated to this event will go through the normal coronial process.

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