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New Zealand Police: 2 missing volcano victims may never be found

By Darryl Coote
New Zealand Police: 2 missing volcano victims may never be found
Police said Wednesday the search for two missing victims was passed on to local authorities. Photo courtesy New Zealand Police

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- New Zealand Police said Wednesday they are scaling down search efforts for the bodies of two presumed victims that are still missing after last week's volcanic eruption, noting that they may never be found.

Forty-seven tourists were on or near White Island, known locally as Whakaari, when the volcano erupted Dec. 9.

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An effort began last week to retrieve the bodies of eight presumed dead, of which six were recovered. However, Australian Winona Langford, 17, and New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, weren't found.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims said in a statement Wednesday the search was being handed over to local authorities, and that it now may be impossible to locate the missing pair.

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"It is the considered view of experts that those bodies have been washed out to sea following a significant weather event on the island the night of the eruption," he said. "There is no guarantee their bodies will be located and police recognize the immense pain this must cause their families."

Tims said although police haven't given up, the recovery operation would change in light of the lower odds of success.

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"We have always had an expectation of ourselves and others that all bodies would be recovered so it's both disappointing and frustrating to be in this position," he said.

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Earlier, Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told reporters the two missing bodies were spotted near a stream but it's likely a significant weather event the night after the eruption swept them out to sea. Police believe they saw Marshall-Inman's body two days after the eruption but couldn't get close enough to retrieve it.

"Despite our best efforts, we weren't able to get [the body] before it went down again," he said.

New Zealand Police on Tuesday said they'd identified all 18 victims, but didn't release the name of one who'd died later at a hospital.

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