New Zealand Defense Force Col. Ryan McKenzie said the mission was carried out by a team of six men and two women of the Explosives Ordinance Disposal Squadron while a second eight-person team stood on standby should any person on the island need to be replaced.
Six of the eight bodies on the island were successfully retrieved and taken to a naval patrol vessel for transfer to the mainland for disaster victim identification.
New Zealand military specialists recovered six bodies from a small volcanic island Friday days after an eruption claimed at least eight other lives and left a toxic and volatile landscape.
Police said they could not retrieve the remains of the final two people in that operation but were able to spot at least one body in the waters not far from the shore.
Police said dive teams deployed in the waters around the island, which is also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, had not found anything and would try again on Saturday. Scientists have warned that gases on the island after Monday's eruption are so toxic and corrosive that a single inhalation could be fatal.
The families cheered and expressed joy and relief upon being told of the successful recovery, said Wally Haumaha, Māori, Pacific & Ethnic Services police deputy commissioner. He expected the operation to take several hours. Going in, authorities knew the location of six of the missing and those bodies were airlifted off the island. Volcanologists aboard will use electronic equipment on the island to provide the recovery team with real-time information on the volcano's behavior.
Scientists have warned White Island, which is the exposed tip of a mostly undersea volcano, is "highly volatile", and has been venting steam and mud regularly. They are thought to be a tour guide and the captain of a boat that had taken tourists to the island.
"We are focusing on formal identification processes to ensure that already distressed families do not receive conflicting information".
Clement said the success of the operation would depend on many factors beyond the control of the recovery team, like "the mountain itself, the volcano, the weather and other matters, environmental factors that we don't control".
"A lot has to go right for this to work", he said.
"But it was just an opportunity, as they said, regardless of whether we're from Australia or New Zealand or wherever, that the moment we're one whanau (family) and will mourn everybody as if they are our own".
But some days later a phone call came from Canberra announcing their relative may have been laying in a hospital bed in New Zealand. Numerous survivors were severely burned. More than two dozen more people are in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.
This handout photograph courtesy of Michael Schade shows the volcano on New Zealand's White Island spewing steam and ash minutes following an eruption on December 9, 2019.
"Today was all about returning them to their loved ones", New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a media conference in Whakatane, the mainland coastal town where about 100 family and local community members prayed and sang together. Australia previously said up to 10 such patients would be transferred to hospitals in Victoria and New South Wales states for further treatment.
New Zealand's GeoNet seismic monitoring agency on Thursday lowered White Island's volcanic alert level to 2, noting there's been no further eruption since Monday, when the level had briefly been raised to 4.