29 miners in New Zealand dead
Hopes of rescuing 29 miners trapped by an explosion at a coal mine in New Zealand have been dashed by a second blast that is believed to have sealed their fate
Families of the trapped men, including two from Scotland, reacted with fury and devastation when told their loved ones could not have survived.
Rescuers had held off entering Pike River mine in Greymouth since the first blast ripped through it on Friday, saying high levels of toxic gases made it too dangerous.
That caused an angry reaction from the relatives waiting above ground, who said a recovery operation should have taken place in the hours after the initial explosion.
Families said rescuers should have entered the mine before the build-up of naturally occurring methane and other fumes in the underground chambers.
Now a second, larger explosion has hit the site, forcing officials to conclude that all those trapped must have perished.
After days of waiting, relatives sobbed and shouted on hearing the bleak news.
Mine manager Peter Whittall reportedly broke down as he told the families of a second massive blast “worse than the first one” and no one was expected to survive.
Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the relatives’ reaction “was just devastation”.
He added: “They just sobbed openly, just fell to the floor. There were people just shouting out, anger. It’s our darkest day.”
Laurie Drew’s son Zen was among those missing.
Mr Drew said of the families: “They were shouting all sorts of words at them.”
He praised both Mr Whittall and police superintendent Gary Knowles, who has been heading the operation.
But he added that rescuers should have gone in on Friday afternoon when there was a “window of opportunity”.
He also said families did not understand why police had run the operation, rather than mining experts.
“The only thing that’s going to make matters worse… is (the discovery) that people were alive after the first blast,” he told Sky News, calling for an inquiry into the disaster.
Prime Minister John Key said there would be an inquiry and that New Zealand stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the bereaved.
“This is a national tragedy, for their families, workmates, friends and our nation,” Mr Key said.
“Like you we all longed for that miracle to occur, that your men would be returned safe. We are a nation in mourning.”
The nation’s leader also said that Britain, Australia and South Africa had also been affected by the tragedy.
Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, Fife, were among the men missing following the initial blast on November 19 at the mine.
The start of the rescue operation had been delayed at the site – in a remote area of the country’s South Island – as tests showed a continuous build-up of toxic gases.
Mr Whittall said there was a huge amount of energy in the secondary blast.
“The mine has been filling up with gas and the bore hole we today measured 95% methane,” he said.
“The volume of gas further down would have provided a very large amount of energy.”
Mr Whittall promised to continue with the task now that it is a recovery process.
“If the men are no longer alive I want them back and will do everything to get them back,” he said.
“We want our boys back and we want to get them out.”