Facing a better than 50% chance that another eruption could occur, a team of elite New Zealand soldiers managed to retrieve the bodies of six victims from Monday afternoon’s eruption. The death toll is now at 16 of the 47 people trapped on the island when the blast occurred.

Another 28 people, mostly tourists, are still being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, many in critical condition with severe burns that will require extensive skin grafts. Aside from Australians, the other victims were from the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.

According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), two military helicopters with an eight-person military team were sent to the still rumbling volcano to recover eight bodies of people who had perished from the heat and ash.

The White Island volcano sits about 30 miles off the shore of Whakatane, the mainland coastal town where about 100 family members and people from the local community gathered to pray and sing as they watched helicopters and crew do their grim task.

The hazards that the rescue teams faced were in everyone’s thoughts as the recovery mission began. Some experts gave the likelihood of a second blast closely following the first one at 50 to 60%.

Volcanologist Nico Fournier from GeoNet, an organization that advises on geologic hazards for New Zealand, explained that the recovery teams might encounter magma, superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks blasted from the volcano at supersonic speed with a second eruption. Unmanned drones had helped locate six bodies, but the rescuers still had to move around in heavy protective gear that slowed the recovery.

The outpouring of compassion from the people of Whakatane was evident after the reality of the blast had settled in. Locals joined the grieving families on a boat near the volcano to perform a Maori blessing. People on the shore chanted "karakia" (prayers), as the island smoldered in the distance.

One local, Boz Te Moana, 24, said, "Where we come from, we don’t leave anyone behind, no one gets left behind. We all move as one." He was at a Maori community center in Whakatane with Michael Mika, 28. Both young men had come to support grieving families.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Australia's ABC Radio, "It has been an incredibly difficult operation, but it's been such a priority. We just want to bring everybody home.”

It is believed that there are two more bodies yet to be recovered but with White Island at "Alert level 2", the highest before an eruption, it was unclear when a team could return to search and recover them.

The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand's most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand's most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea Photo: NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE FORCE / Handout