New Zealand police announced Tuesday that they initiated a criminal investigation into the circumstances of tourist deaths due to the eruption of the Whakaari volcano, while eight people remain missing.
Tour company operators could face involuntary manslaughter charges if they are found criminally responsible for not protecting clients, said a criminal law expert, according to The New Zealand Herald.
A total of 47 people were on or near the island at the time the Whakaari silently threw boiling steam, rocks and ashes into the air.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent a message to the families and friends of foreign tourists trapped during the eruption of the Whakaari volcano, after expressing "unfathomable pain" over the tragedy.
"Our hearts are with the families of the injured, missing or deceased," said Ardern, Radio New Zealand said.
"For those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share their pain and sadness and we are devastated."
The prime minister confirmed that five people died and another eight were still missing after the eruption on Monday on Whakaari Island, also known as White Island.
Among the tourists who were on the island during the cataclysm are tourists from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Germany, Malaysia, as well as their New Zealand guides.
During a ministerial statement before Parliament, Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the courage of helicopter pilots who made the conscious decision to land on the island after the eruption to try to rescue people.
"I want to acknowledge their courage, in their immediate efforts to get people off the island, those pilots made an incredibly brave decision in extremely dangerous circumstances."
Police, with the support of New Zealand Fire and Emergency, focus on the recovery operation, as well as work to confirm the exact number and identity of those who are not taken into account, he said.
However, there was little hope of finding the missing alive, after night reconnaissance air flights found no signs of life.
Police also said the bodies left on the island are covered with ashes.