Dec. 13 (UPI) -- New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed Friday that they were able to recover six bodies from White Island but the mission continues as they search for two more missing bodies.
Early Friday, a mission was launched to recover eight bodies from the volcanic island, also know as Whakkari, returning six of them to the mainland.
Bush said they have located one body in waters near the island and aerial and underwater searches are currently underway for the other.
"Unfortunately, the recovery option is not over as two people remain unaccounted for," Bush said in a statement. "We know at least one body is in the water and divers on the police launch deodar are currently attempting to recover this body."
During a press conference, he said that there are two possibilities for the location of the other body: it is also in the water or still on the island and they haven't been able to locate it yet.
"We are also, right now, deploying our dive team to search the surrounding waters," he said. "We will continue to search for these two people."
Bush said there was an attempt to recover the body that was located in the water on Tuesday but efforts were thwarted by the conditions at sea.
"To say it was choppy would be an understatement," he said.
Forty-seven people were on the island when it erupted Monday, killing at least 15 people. The New Zealand Ministry of Health said 17 people injured in the volcanic blast remained in the hospital, 13 in critical condition.
The mission was carried out Friday despite worsening conditions on the island and increasing probability of a second eruption.
"The environment those staff encountered was unpredictable, challenging and those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure those six people were returned to their loved ones," Bush said. "Unfortunately, there remains two more people that we need to find so we can also return them. So this operation will continue."
New Zealand Defense Force Col. Ryan McKenzie said the mission was carried out by a team of six men and two women of the Explosives Ordinance Disposal Squadron while a second eight-person team stood on standby should any person on the island need to be replaced.
The team was on the island four hours, limited by the ability of the breathing apparatuses they used, he said, adding that they were given a 6 percent chance in any three-hour period of an eruption.
"I'm incredibly proud of these individuals," he said. "I'm proud of everyone from the NZDF whose been involved and allowing this to occur but I'm also proud of the entire response that has enabled this to occur."
Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner offered her "heartfelt" thanks to all those who participated in the mission.
"I would like to express the collective relief and the gratitude on behalf of our community on hearing that six bodies have been recovered from Whakkari today," she said.