NZ police suspend volcano body search

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The search for two missing victims of New Zealand volcano eruption has been called off.

This photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force shows an operation to recover bodies from White Island after a volcanic eruption in Whakatane, New Zealand, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.

"The search for the two missing victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption has been suspended", police superintendent Andy McGregor said in a statement.

Police are ready to act if new information emerges, he said.The death toll stands at 19, including Langford and Marshall-Inman.

Police have scaled back a search for the bodies but have said they have not given up hope of finding them.

'With the current conditions of sunshine baking and decomposing his body, he's going from a situation where we could have an open casket to now more likely not having a body at all - due to your government's red tape and slow decision making.

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Helicopter pilots and boat operators helped the injured off the island immediately after the eruption, but emergency services did not return to the island to recover bodies until four days later because they considered the site remained too unsafe.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said official inquiries by coroners and work safety regulators into the eruption could take up to one year, and will carry potential criminal penalties of up to five years in jail.

'They (Laura and Matthew) are progressing as well as could be hoped for given the severity of their injuries, but they both have a tremendously hard and long road to recovery ahead of them.

Forty-seven people were visiting the privately owned volcanic island, a popular tourist destination off the east coast of New Zealand's north island, when the eruption occurred.

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

In a message provided by the families of Lauren, aged 32, and Matthew, aged 36, they passed on honest condolences to the families and friends of those who did not survive this tragic event; saying "our thoughts and prayers are with you".

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