New Zealand launched a mission to recover bodies from the White Island volcano on Friday morning local time, four days after a deadly eruption there. The operation aims to recover eight bodies. Another eight people have already been confirmed dead.
Ahead of the operation's launch, authorities said the mission would be risky, as conditions remain dangerous and unpredictable. The continuing risk that the volcano poses had delayed attempts to reach the island this week.
"The risk has not passed," Mike Clement, a police official, said Thursday, according to TVNZ. Until Friday morning, it was unclear whether the mission would go ahead.
But on Friday morning, relatively calm weather near the island appeared to work in the authorities' favor. Amid a flurry of activity - with helicopters circling the area and vessels moving toward the island - observers assembled on the shoreline. Members of New Zealand's indigenous Maori community sang in support of the operation.
It may be the last chance to recover the bodies.
Scientists worry that another eruption may be imminent, which could bury the bodies. Ash from the volcano coupled with White Island's acidic environment could disintegrate and entomb the bodies within a short time span.
New Zealand police said eight military specialists would disembark from a nearby vessel and be deployed to the island Friday. Partially through the use of drones, authorities have been able to identify the locations of six bodies. The remaining two are still unaccounted for.
The recovery workers would leave the island as soon as their mission was completed, authorities said Thursday.
Meanwhile, doctors are fighting to save the more than 20 people who remain in intensive care after the volcano eruption.
On Wednesday, it was reported that New Zealand had ordered about 1,290 square feet of human skin from the United States. The skin is expected to be used to help treat patients severely burned in Monday's eruption.