Police said they will scale down the search for the final two missing people from the White Island volcano blast. They believe that the victims' bodies "were washed out to sea."
New Zealand police believe that the bodies of the two people still missing after a volcano eruption on White Island, also known by its indigenous name Whakaari, have been washed out to sea, they announced on Wednesday.
The official death toll from the blast is 16, with dozens more injured when the volcano erupted earlier in December.
Deputy police commissioner Mike Clement told media on Wednesday that authorities were "deeply sorry" they had not been able to find the bodies of an Australian teenager and a local tour guide.
"It is my strong view, but I cannot be absolutely positive, that the two bodies were washed out to sea," Clement said.
"We haven't given up," he added. "But we have reached a phase where we are literally in the hands of the sea."
Clement said search operations will now be continued by regional officers while the nationally-run teams would not search any further.
Forty-seven people were on the island, a popular destination for tourists located in northern New Zealand, when the volcano erupted. Fourteen of those who were injured are still being treated in hospitals in New Zealand, 13 others have been transferred to Australia.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that inquiries will be launched to look at why the tourists were allowed on the island . This could result in changes to New Zealand's tourism regulations.
ed/se (dpa, Reuters)