Tonga volcano eruption: New Zealand Defence Force plane departs for Tonga

A New Zealand Defence Force plane has been deployed to Tonga to assess the damage following the violent volcanic eruption and tsunami on Saturday.

The eight-minute eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai triggered atmospheric shockwaves and a surging tsunami, which travelled as far as Alaska, Japan and South America.

The reconnaissance flight took off from Auckland's Whenuapai air base shortly before 9am. Its  departure was dependent on whether the ash cloud spawned from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai had dissipated enough to allow for safe conditions, with the cloud expected to drift west towards Australia on Monday.

Reports overnight indicated there had been no further ash fall and there was no damage to the runway in Tonga, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Monday.

"It's just a matter of clearing the ash from the runway. The flight is scheduled to leave this morning."

The RNZAF P-3K Orion will carry out an initial impact assessment of the affected area, including low-lying islands that have not been heard from since the explosion due to cut power and damaged communications infrastructure. 

The Defence Force is also preparing options for naval deployments to assist with Tonga's recovery, RNZ reports. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday either HMNZS Canterbury or HMNZS Manawanui could be deployed.

A P-8 aircraft is also being deployed from Australia to survey critical infrastructure, such as roads, ports and power lines, if conditions permit on Monday.