Frustration grows for families of New Zealand volcano victims

Whakatane (New Zealand) (AFP) –


The brother of a tour guide who died in the White Island volcano disaster said Thursday stalled efforts to recover victims' bodies showed "leadership had failed".

New Zealand man Hayden Marshall-Inman was among the first confirmed victims of Monday's eruption, with emotional accounts of his final moments on the island recalled by helicopter pilots who helped survivors.

Holding back tears, his brother Mark Inman told TVNZ that authorities were taking too long to recover bodies which he said could be picked up safely and securely by helicopter pilots like himself, who "know the island inside and out".

"It's not frustration that they can't get to the island, it is more frustration that they haven't gone to the island," he said early Thursday.

"There has been two perfect opportunities to get out there and they haven't gone.

"Red tape, bureaucracy -- leadership has failed."

Inman wrote to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week asking for permission to enter the no-fly zone to collect his brother's body, a request he said was rejected.

Ardern admitted authorities need to do a better job of communicating retrieval efforts.

"I did meet Mark Inman very briefly and his family on Tuesday and my heart goes out to them," she told reporters in Christchurch Thursday.

"I can't experience what that experience, that waiting, will feel like for them."

The death toll from Monday's tragedy now stands at 16 people, including eight people still missing on the island and presumed dead.

Acknowledging the "frustrations" of relatives waiting for answers about their loved ones, authorities announced late Thursday that police were planning to carry out a retrieval operation Friday morning -- despite volcanologists' warnings that the chances of another significant eruption in the next 24 hours had risen to 50-60 percent.

- "A true hero" -

A helicopter pilot who went to White Island Monday to rescue victims said he saw Marshall-Inman "in a pretty bad way".

Pilot Tom Storey told local media he moved Marshall-Inman to a more comfortable location while he helped other survivors, but was unable to get him off the island at the time.

An emotional Inman said his brother loved his job and always put others ahead of himself, adding that Storey had told him it appeared he had been trying to help those in need.

"His footsteps were going back to help on White Island," he said. "He was a true hero."

Others close to Marshall-Inman remembered him in a similar way.

"Anyone who knew him, we all just know that he would have been trying to help people," close friend Julia Gustafson told AFP.

"Hayden was an incredibly generous person. A person that was totally full of life and enthusiastic about everything he did," she added.