Volcano victim family’s hopes dashed in hospital ID
EXCLUSIVE: The family of an Australian, initially believed killed in the New Zealand volcano tragedy, were asked days later to identify a person who may have been their relative but was not expected to survive.
But their hopes of a final goodbye were dashed after they arrived in hospital to find it wasn't their loved one.
The family member, who did not want their own name or the name of the victim published, said their relative was initially lost and presumed dead on the island.
But some days later a phone call came from Canberra announcing their relative may have been laying in a hospital bed in New Zealand.
The woman in the hospital had been recovering from the island but was not expected to survive, the family were told.
They needed to formally identify her and were told the life support needed to be switched off, the family source said.
But, when they arrived in New Zealand, they discovered the person gravely injured in the hospital bed had the wrong coloured eyes.
"They would have had a passport copy that said the colour of her eyes," the family member said.
"To be expecting one thing and to have the other happen, it's devastating."
The family member said authorities had believed the person in bed may have been their relative because she had the same colour nail polish as was found in their relative's luggage.
"I understand how it can happen, but it's so hard when we're dealing with all of this at once."
Unfortunately the process to identify the badly burned people taken from the island has been difficult due to the nature of the injuries.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australian and NZ authorities were making every effort to keep families updated with the best possible information.
"Mass casualty incidents like this create highly difficult circumstances," he said on Thursday.
"We are focusing on formal identification processes to ensure that already distressed families do not receive conflicting information."
NZ authorities took steps to address criticisms of transparency ahead of an operation to recover eight bodies understood to be stranded on the island on Friday.
There had been fears a second eruption, which was becoming more likely, would have made the tourist hotspot inaccessible and potentially buried the bodies.
However the remains of six people, whose locations were already known, were successfully recovered on Friday.
Two more people remain unaccounted for.