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Death toll climbs to 17 from New Zealand volcano eruption

By Darryl Coote
Death toll climbs to 17 from New Zealand volcano eruption
The death toll climbed to 17 on Sunday after another person injured in the volcanic eruption of New Zealand's White Island earlier this month died. Photo courtesy of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust/EPA-EFE

Dec. 22 (UPI) -- New Zealand Police said Sunday the official death toll from a volcanic eruption earlier this month has increased to 17.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims confirmed in a statement that a person injured in the eruption of White Island on Dec. 9 had died Sunday at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland with police being notified shortly before 11 p.m.

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Tims said of the 17 victims, one person died in Australia.

The official death toll does not include two people still missing following the eruption early this month.

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In a separate statement, Bay of Plenty District Commander Andy McGregor said they are still searching for the bodies of Australian Winona Langford, 17, and New Zealander Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, who authorities presume are dead.

An extensive aerial search for the victims was conducted by police and the coastguard between the island and the mainland over the weekend though "no further items of significance were located," McGregor said. "Today, police will review the search area to date and make a decision on further search activity."

Tims said last week that authorities believe their bodies were washed out to sea and may never be found.

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"There is no guarantee their bodies will be located and police recognize the immense pain this must cause their families," Tims said Wednesday while announcing the search operation would be scaled back and handed over to local authorities.

Forty-seven people, mostly passengers of a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship, were on White Island when it erupted.

Located off the country's east coast, White Island is a tourist attraction that sees more than 10,000 visitors a year.

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