After a week of incomprehensible grief, Australian families shattered by Monday's volcano eruption in New Zealand were reunited with their loved ones on Friday afternoon.
But this was a reunion like no other.
Wearing protective equipment amid toxic gases and ash, New Zealand defence personnel returned six of the eight bodies from White Island to the mainland in a high-risk retrieval operation that started in Friday's first light.
At Whakatane airport in the afternoon, the families of Australians and New Zealanders who had hoped all week for the return of eight bodies, gathered together around six coffins, unsure which one carried their loved one.
"In amongst them was an enormous amount of grief and sorrow," New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said.
NZ Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the news of the retrieval was met with "sighs of relief, joy and clapping" by the families who gathered together while the mission took place.
"They've got their loved ones coming home," he said.
"To be able to take them back to Australia. If that was your son or your daughter, like it was my son or my daughter, what would we be thinking?"
But there was confusion and consternation early in the day when Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne declared all six bodies were Australians.
Locals took this to mean Kiwi tour guides Tipene Maangi and Hayden Inman could not be found and had been left behind.
Ms Ardern forcefully dismissed Senator Payne's suggestion all the bodies will be confirmed as Australian.
"That simply will not be the case ... that won't simply be accurate," she said.
"Now there's a process to work through to make sure there's certainty that the families absolutely deserve."
The bodies were flown from Whakatane to Auckland where they were met at the airport by a row of hearses which took them in a solemn procession to the city's mortuary to be identified.
The recovery mission will continue on Saturday in a bid to find the remaining two bodies.
Police believe one of the bodies is in water close to the island, while the other has not been sighted.
Six of the eight bodies trapped on the island are Australian: Brisbane woman Julie Richards and her university student daughter Jessica; Coffs Harbour couple Richard Elzer and Karla Matthews; Melbourne woman Krystal Browitt and Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15.
They are among up to 15 Australians killed by the heat, ash and toxic gases that enveloped the island following Monday's eruption.
Sydney's Hollander brothers Berend, 16, and Matthew, 13, and Coffs Harbour man Jason Griffiths died in hospital from their horrific burns, while Adelaide man Gavin Dallow, 53, was declared dead on Wednesday.
Fears are held for Berend and Matthew's parents Martin and Barbara Hollander, while Sydney couple Anthony and Kristine Langford and their daughter Winona, 17, are missing.
Extended family have indicated the Langfords' son Jesse, 19, survived.
He is likely to be one of the 13 Australian survivors who have been flown home to be treated in burns units in Sydney and Melbourne, while one will remain in hospital in New Zealand.
Their battle is not over, with many still listed as critical.
Australian Associated Press