New twist in White Island volcano tragedy
New Zealand's workplace and safety regulator sent an inspector to White Island Tours just two months before the deadly volcanic eruption that has killed 19 people.
The inspector, tasked with auditing the safety of the tour, deemed the visit of the volcano to be "safe and sound" just 12 weeks before the volcano erupted, according to a report from Stuff.
The inspector was sent by Worksafe's Maruiti/Safe Haven team, a government group working to improve the health and safety of Maori workers. Worksafe have not yet commented on why the inspector was sent to White Island Tours, but confirmed the visit occurred.
White Island, also known as Whakaari, erupted on December 9 while 47 people were on the island. More than two dozen people were left with severe burns from the scalding steam and 19 people were killed.
Authorities on Tuesday called off the search for two bodies they believe were washed out to sea soon after the eruption, saying extensive shoreline and aerial searches had not turned up anything new.
Police have identified the pair believed to be washed out to sea as New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, and Australian teenager Winona Langford, 17.
Ms Langford's parents, Anthony and Kristine, were also killed in the eruption. Their son, Ms Langford's brother, Jesse, 19, survived the blast, but is believed to have received significant burns to his body. He is recovering in a Sydney hospital.
White Island is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50km off the country's North Island and was a popular tourist destination before the eruption.
Many people have questioned why tourists were still allowed on the island after New Zealand's GeoNet seismic monitoring agency raised the volcano's alert level on November 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale, where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulphur dioxide gas, which originates from magma.
Worksafe is the workplace safety regulator in New Zealand and administers adventure tourism regulations.
Companies like White Island Tours require safety auditing once every three years, according to the report.
These audits are conducted by certified private adventure tourism auditing companies, who provide their reports to the regulator, but do not publish their findings publicly.
Stuff received a tip off that the inspector had visited the island "about 12 weeks ago" and elements of the visit will form part of a new Worksafe investigation into the tragedy.
"A Government Health and Safety Inspector was recently on the island and this gave everyone the impression the operation was safe. He didn't raise a single concern," the source told the publication.
After the inspector's visit, staff raised concern with their manager's about the physical capability of some of the tourists who'd previously visited the island.
But the inspector reportedly gave the sense that everything "was safe and sound - even the idea of increasing numbers".