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New Zealand volcano: Police suspend search for two missing victims

By Darryl Coote
New Zealand volcano: Police suspend search for two missing victims
New Zealand Police have called off the search for the last two missing victims from Dec. 9's volcanic eruption of White Island. Photo by Michael Schade/EPA-EFE

Dec. 24 (UPI) -- New Zealand Police said Tuesday it has suspended a search for the bodies of two people missing after the volcanic eruption of White Island earlier this month.

Forty-seven people were on the island known locally as Whakaari when it erupted Dec. 9, officially killing 17 people, not including the two missing victims who are presumed dead.

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Authorities have said they believe the bodies of Australian Winona Langford, 17, and New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, were washed out to sea after the eruption and may never be found.

Bay of Plenty District Commander Andy McGregor made the announcement in a statement Tuesday, stating the decision was made following an "extensive shoreline and substantial aerial search from east of White Island to north of Cape Runaway."

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"Sadly, no further items of significance have been located," he said, adding the families of the missing victims have been informed of the decision to suspend the search.

"Police remain ready to respond if new information comes to light," McGregor said, urging the public to notify authorities if they find anything that may aid in their search.

On Sunday, McGregor said they searched for the missing victims over the weekend but found nothing of significance and would make "a decision on further search activity" following a review of the situation.

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Meanwhile, the family of American newlyweds Matt Urey, 36, and Lauren Urey, 32, who were injured in the eruption and remain hospitalized in New Zealand, offered their condolences Monday to the families and friends of victims.

"There are no words to express how horrible this has been for everyone involved, but we are very lucky and grateful that although Lauren and Matt are severely injured, they're still with us," their families said in a statement shared by the New Zealand Police.

They said Lauren's and Matt's conditions were "progressing as well as could be hoped for given the severity of their injuries" without elaborating out of respect for their privacy.

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"They both have a tremendously difficult and long road to recovery ahead of them," the families said in the statement.

They also thanked the police, healthcare professionals and the New Zealand public for their assistance and support.

"This has been a difficult time for everyone involved, but New Zealand is an amazing country with amazing people who have helped us more than we could've ever hoped for," they said.

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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