The friends of three Australian victims of the deadly Whakaari volcano eruption have confirmed their deaths.
In a statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday night, the friends of Jason Griffiths, Karla Mathews and Richard Elzer said: "We are incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends."
The number of Australians confirmed dead in the New Zealand disaster is now seven.
The six friends said they had embarked on a cruise earlier in December "as a group of nine close friends who were looking forward to a wonderful holiday together".
They said they were devastated to learn on December 9 that three of their group were visiting White Island – otherwise known as Whakaari – at the time of the eruption.
"Some time later, we discovered that two of our friends, Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, were still on the island. We have been advised that there are no signs of life on the island," the statement said.
We then located our third friend, Jason Griffiths, in a hospital in the early hours of the next morning.
"From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members."
Sydney teen found alive as death toll rises
A 19-year-old Sydney teenager has reportedly been found and taken to hospital in the wake of the deadly White Island volcano eruption, as news has emerged that the body of Adelaide man Gavin Dallow has been identified by police.
Unconfirmed reports claim Jesse Langford, who was thought to be killed, is undergoing treatment while his sister and parents are still unaccounted for. It is not known where he was reportedly found or the condition he is in.
When approached by Yahoo News Australia, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs was unable to confirm the news of Jesse being taken to hospital.
Meanwhile, the body of Adelaide man Gavin Dallow, who had been missing since the New Zealand volcano eruption, has been found and identified by police, his family has confirmed.
The family says Mr Dallow's stepdaughter, 15-year-old Zoe Hosking, is also presumed dead with her body on White Island.
His wife, and Zoe's mother, Lisa Dallow, remains in hospital in Hamilton with serious burns.
Authorities conducted four drone fly-overs of the island earlier on Wednesday and the analysis of that footage remains ongoing, New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims told media Wednesday afternoon.
Some of the families of missing Australians arriving today in Whakatane and an action plan has been rolled out to support their welfare, police said. However, Deputy Commissioner Tims would not confirm how many families of Australian nationals were in New Zealand currently or the names of those feared dead.
New Zealand Police said about 3pm Wednesday afternoon they are preparing to release the confirmed names of those missing in the tragedy shortly. The details will appear online on the page of New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management.
When asked about families who have been critical of how long the response has taken to identify and confirm details of those missing and injured, Deputy Commissioner Tims said he understood their pain and promised to return to the island when it was safe to do so. The remains of some of the dead are believed to be still on the island.
“We absolutely understand the stress this is causing. We understand the grief that they are in,” he said.
“We understand the importance of us returning to that island for all of New Zealanders.”
Authorities are currently worried about further eruptions, which is hampering rescue efforts.
“Those deploying to the island will likely encounter serious physical and chemical hazards, for which we must be prepared,” NZ police said in a statement Wednesday morning.
“We also have members of the Australian Federal Police here supporting us, supporting the families here from Australia and so we appreciate the support from Australia and the work that those here on the ground are doing,” Deputy Commissioner Tims said.
Australia is sending a defence aircraft to retrieve some of the Aussie survivors to bring them home while another Australian survivor was being repatriated Wednesday on a privately organised flight, the ABC reported.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that 11 Australians were unaccounted for, including at least three believed to be among the six already confirmed dead, although the death toll is certain to rise.
Brisbane woman Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, were the first Australians confirmed dead.
At least 13 Australians who were injured have been taken to multiple hospitals across New Zealand.
As police prepare to release more information, here’s what has been confirmed so far about those Australians on the island during Monday’s eruption.
From Adelaide: Lisa Dallow, 48, is in a Hamilton hospital with severe burns. But her husband Gavin Dallow, 53, has been found dead and her daughter Zoe Hosking, 15, is unaccounted for and presumed dead.
From Melbourne: Krystal Browitt, 21, is missing.
From Coffs Harbour, NSW: Karla Mathews, 32, and her partner Richard Elzer, 32, have been confirmed dead. Their travel companion Jason Griffiths died in hospital after suffering severe burns to 80 per cent of his body.
From Sydney, Willoughby: the Langford family comprising parents Anthony and Kristine and daughter Winona, 17, are unaccounted for. Reports are emerging that Jesse Langford has been taken to hospital.
From Sydney: the Hollander family, including father Martin, 48, wife Barbara and two teenage sons believed aged 13-14 and 16-17 years are missing.
From Sydney, Engadine: Marion London, 56 and husband Nick are in hospital with severe burns.
– With AAP
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