Police backtrack on criminal investigation into White Island / Whakaari deaths

Police have retracted a criminal investigation into the Whakaari / White Island deaths. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims told media a criminal investigation into the deaths would take place. 

However, in a statement on Tuesday night, police backtracked, saying it is "too early" to launch a criminal investigation.

"At this time, police is investigating the death of the individuals on Whakaari / White Island on behalf of the Coroner," police said.

"To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation."

The investigation on behalf of the Coroner will be carried out in tandem with the WorkSafe NZ health and safety investigation into the injuries and deaths caused by the eruption.

Previously, Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Pete Watson said of the 31 people who were injured, 25 are now in our four regional burns units located in Christchurch, Hutt Valley, Waikato, and Auckland's Middlemore Hospital. 

"Six patients were transferred to Tauranga and Auckland... All of our burns units are now full to capacity," he told reporters. 

"Our hospitals' plastic surgeons, anaesthetists, nursing staff and others are all doing their very utmost to treat the survivors, many of whom have sustained serious injuries."

He said of those who were injured, 27 of the 31 have suffered greater than 30 percent total body surface area burns - the standard criteria for admission to the national burns unit at Middlemore Hospital. 

"Many have inhalation burns that require airway support... The injured patients are aged between 30 and 72 and most are visitors to New Zealand."

The nationalities of the 47 people on the island at the time of th eruption were announced on Tuesday. 

Two were from the UK, four from Germany, 24 from Australia, five from New Zealand, two from China, one from Malaysia, and nine people from the United States. 

There are approximately eight people missing and presumed dead.

You can read more about the natural disaster here