Prime Minister statement Whakaari White Island recovery operationPrime Minister
I want to start by acknowledging the families who have experienced such grief and such loss since the extraordinary tragedy on Monday.
Today was all about reuniting them with their loved ones.
We've just come from the airport where many of them were gathered and in amongst what you can imagine is an enormous amount of grief and sorrow, I do want to acknowledge Ngāti Awa, who provided a process that is of course unique to Aotearoa, unique to Ngāti Awa, and many families commented to me on how important and special that was to them. So I acknowledge them.
We know that reunification won't ease that sense of loss or grief because I don't think anything can. But we felt an enormous duty of care as New Zealanders to make sure that we brought their family members back.
There is a process now that needs to take place over time and we leave that in the hands of the coroner to do their job.
What remains left for me to say is an enormous thank you to all of those who were involved in the recovery operation today.
I had the opportunity, even though the colonel hasn't been able to yet, to visit the HMNZS Wellington and on that ship were medics, members of the New Zealand Police, St John's, scientists from GNS and our Defence Force, all of whom played an integral role in the operation that occurred today.
I can tell you from my conversation with them that they are humble people – true professionals who carried out their role with dignity and respect for those who have been lost.
I hope the time comes when we can all pay tribute to what they did today, because although the best science and information available was used to try and make sure that we looked after them, there was a huge amount of courage still required to do what they did today.
So my job was simply on behalf of New Zealand to say thank you.