Ten Aussie volcano victims are coming home
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as many as 10 patients injured in the New Zealand volcano blast would be transferred in the next 24 hours to hospitals in New South Wales and Victoria.
Seven Australians have now been listed as missing after being caught in the horrific volcanic eruption on New Zealand's north island east coast, injuring more than 30.
"The Government has activated a repatriation plan to bring a number of Australians injured in the White Island volcano tragedy from New Zealand to Australia for specialist medical care,'' Mr Morrison said.
We anticipate transferring up to 10 injured patients to New South Wales and Victoria, starting within the next 24 hours. Any transfers will depend strictly on medical decisions from doctors that it is safe to move the patients.
"Our focus, and that of the New Zealand Government, is on providing the best, most immediate clinical care for those most in need. The plan also requires significant contributions from State Government agencies, for which we are immensely grateful.''
He said three Royal Australian Air Force aircraft had been deployed to New Zealand as part of the repatriation effort.
A C-130 Hercules departed RAAF Base Richmond and two C-17 Globemasters departed RAAF Base Amberley to Christchurch, with a team of specialist aircrew and medical equipment on board.
The NSW, Victorian, Queensland and South Australian Governments had also provided aircraft.
"Today is another difficult day for those involved in the White Island volcano disaster in New Zealand, for people who remain in hospital and families who have received the most devastating of news, and those still enduring the agony of awaiting news of their loved ones,'' Mr Morrison said.
"Our hearts go out to all of the Australians and their families caught up in this tragedy, and our Kiwi cousins across the Tasman.
"At this stage the Government is still not in a position to officially confirm the identity and status of those Australians who are unaccounted for and those who are deceased.''
He said Emergency Management Australia had co-ordinated the repatriation effort at the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
"Defence, Australian Border Force, the Department of Health, and the Australian Federal Police are also to be thanked for their efforts.''
NZ Ministry of Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said the focus for authorities was getting families back together and giving people the best care possible.
"We are currently focused on ensuring families of the injured and deceased are supported on arrival into New Zealand," she said in a Thursday afternoon press conference.
"Immigration New Zealand are assisting through border clearance processes and connections to police family liaison services."
Dr Bloomfield said Australians able to travel would be repatriated over the next two days.
"We have our national burns unit at Middlemore hospital in Auckland that has now taken over essentially the overall control of the care for those patients and the co-ordination across the country for where those people are cared for, if transfers are required and also to lead the clinical decision making about possible repatriation of those injured people," she said.
"We have had an offer from the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Government to repatriate Australian injured people over the next day or two."
A patient currently being treated at Wellington hospital will travel to Sydney on a plane organised by a private company.