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New Zealand retrieves bodies of 6 killed when volcano erupted

New Zealand crews face toxic volcanic gasses

New Zealand military specialists recovered six more bodies from a small volcanic island Friday. The operation comes days after an eruption claimed at least eight other lives and left a toxic and volatile landscape that has hampered recovery efforts.

The recovery of the six victims on Friday brought the confirmed death toll to 14, but as CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reports, two others were still missing. The two are presumed dead, but rescuers will have to go back to try and recover them — despite warnings that the volcano remains very volatile. 

Earlier Friday, eight specialists wearing protective clothing and using breathing apparatuses landed by helicopter and found the six bodies on White Island. The bodies were airlifted to a ship near the island off New Zealand's eastern coast, where scientists and other police and military personnel monitored the risky operation. Inocencio says the remains were then transported to a hospital in Aukland.

The eight-person squad spent four hours searching the island for victims, and New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said "the environment that those staff encountered was unpredictable."  But that was putting it lightly.

Inocencio says scientists had warned the volcanic gasses being emitted on the island are so toxic that a single breath could prove deadly.

Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the families cheered when they were told of the successful recovery of six bodies, expressing joy and relief. "They've got their loved ones coming home," Haumaha said.

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Along with the two still missing, the final eight victims were thought to be six Australians and two New Zealanders. Police said another recovery operation would be made later to recover the two bodies that couldn't be found. They're thought to be a tour guide and the captain of a boat that had taken tourists to the island.

The police said police divers would search the sea around the island and aerial surveillance would be used to try and locate the two victims. "We do believe that at least one of them is in the water and the other one we are unsure," Commissioner Bush said at a news briefing.

Conditions were good for Friday's recovery operation, with light winds and calm seas, and the volcano was "quiet" as the team worked, Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said. The specialists were all safe, said Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims, who is also the national operations commander. He praised "their efforts and the bravery they have shown." 

The volcano's continued spewing of gas delayed the recovery of the last victims of Monday's eruption, which occurred as 47 tourists and their guides were exploring the island. Many of the survivors were severely burned. Australia has returned several of its patients to burn units back home, and specialist medical teams were heading to New Zealand from Australia, Britain and the United States.

Skin banks were also sending tissue to New Zealand hospitals to use in grafts.

Authorities say 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were on the island at the time. Many were from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that left Sydney two days earlier.

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