TOUR operators who sent holidaymakers into a volcano that then erupted killing six could face manslaughter charges as cops launched a probe.
Six people died and a further 30 have been hospitalised in the horrific blast – as eight still remain missing.
Rescuers yesterday combed through the ash and smoke but said they could find “no signs of life.”
The blast came after New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency had raised the volcano’s alert level on November 18 from one to two on a scale where five represents a major eruption.
Despite the lower number on the scale, the blast – classed as “moderate” – was still deadly.
Cops are now demanding answers as it is revealed visitors to the island had been asked to sign a waiver, confirming the volcano could erupt at any time.
Police in the country confirmed they had launched an investigation into the incident but later said it was too early to say whether it was a criminal probe.
And according to one legal expert who spoke to the New Zealand Herald, tour company operators involved could face manslaughter charges “if found criminally liable for failing to protect customers”.
The explosion was described as “unfortunate but not completely unexpected” by experts, Stuff reports, with customers asked to sign a waiver confirming the unstable nature of the volcano.
One man, who visited the lava-spewing mountain at Easter, said the waiver “made it clear it was an unpredictable and active volcano”.
The bottom line is it’s not safe.”
But the waiver may not stand up legally, according to the publication – which could mean the tour companies failed to protect their customers.
Internal Affairs Minister and New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin suggested there could be an inquiry into the tragic White Island incident yesterday afternoon, Newshub reports.
Cops stressed they had done everything they could in their rescue efforts.
Police Minister, Stuart Nash said: “[Officers] had no idea what they were dealing with and what they’re doing is waiting for the right scientific and technical information before they can even think about going onto the island.”
He also praised the tour operators who stepped in to help with the rescue mission, adding: “I take my hat off to them – true heroes.”
But Nash added: “The bottom line is it’s not safe.
“All I would say is that at this point, the police’s main role is coordination and recovery, and then victim identification.”
The rescuers removed five bodies from the island yesterday after the blast around 2 pm.
Cops today confirmed a further sixth person had died, as fears mounted for those in hospital.
It was reported New Zealnds’ burns units were stretched to their limits as they struggled to cope with the victims, 27 of whom had horrific burns to over 70 per cent of their bodies.
Tragically, many of the injured are not expected to survive.