New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday, after specialists recovered six bodies from White Island where a volcano erupted earlier this week, that the mission was about returning the bodies "to their loved ones."
"We know that reunion won't ease that sense of loss, of suffering, because I don't think anything can, but we felt an enormous sense of duty as New Zealanders to bring their loved ones home," Ardern told reporters in Whakatane.
Doctors also continued to work to keep alive dozens of survivors with severe burns.
The military team flew into the island via helicopter Friday and wore protective suits to look for the bodies. They were not able to recover the remains of two of the eight people who died in the eruption, but officials said they would return to the island to try again.
"It's not over yet," New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters in Whakatane.
The bodies were taken to the mainland to be identified.
Police said dive teams also searched the waters around the island Friday.
Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told reporters that drones had mapped the locations of the six bodies that were recovered, but the whereabouts of the two other bodies remained unknown.
The island continued to vent poisonous gas from the volcano's crater, and scientists said the volcano remained "highly volatile."
At least 27 survivors of the volcanic eruption suffered burns over more than 71% of their bodies; of that number, 22 were on ventilators because of the severity of their burns.
Specialist medical teams from Australia, Britain and the United States were traveling to New Zealand to help in the burn units. Skin banks were also working to send more tissue to the doctors. Health officials said they needed an extra 1.2 million square centimeters of skin to provide grafts for the victims. The average human body has a range of 16,000 to 18,500 square centimeters of skin, Dr. Matthew Hoffman said in an article on the website WebMD.
Authorities said about 47 people were touring the island at the time of the eruption, including 24 Australians, with the rest from the United States, Britain, Germany, China, Malaysia and New Zealand. Some of the victims were passengers from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean.
Australia sent at least one military aircraft to New Zealand to bring 12 victims back to Australia for treatment.