Miners’ families braced for ‘loss of life’

The desperate effort to save 29 miners trapped underground in New Zealand remained on a knife-edge last night, as even those working to rescue the stricken men admitted that hopes for their escape were fading by the hour.



Rescue workers' frustrations were heightened when the drilling of an exploratory shaft was delayed by hard rock and a robot broke down still well short of the area where it is hoped the men have sheltered. The military robot, meant to film conditions in the mine, broke down just 500m into the tunnel.

Police superintendent Gary Knowles said: "This is a very serious situation and the longer it goes on, hope fades. We have to be realistic."

Rescuers were close to finishing drilling a shaft into the mine where the workers have been trapped for four days, with a special diamond drill just 20m and five hours away from breaking through. Hopes focused on the 500ft-long shaft down which officials planned to lower listening devices and air testing equipment.

Fears of a second explosion have delayed the rescue operation, with teams still waiting for the mine to be declared safe, and yesterday New Zealand authorities admitted for the first time that the men may be dead.

Peter Whittall, Pike River Coal's chief executive, said that the rescue crews assembled above ground were ready to go down "at a moment's notice" but that the risk was still too great. "I cannot express the frustration that our guys feel at not being able to deploy underground. It is heart-wrenching."

Mr Whittall struggled to contain his emotions as he read out the names of the 29 miners at a press conference in Greymouth, the nearest town to the mine.

As well as Peter Rodger and Malcolm Campbell, both from Scotland, the group includes a 17-year-old New Zealander, Joseph Dunbar, who was due to start work this week but had persuaded mine managers to allow him a foretaste of life underground. His mother, Pip Timms, said he was "grinning from ear to ear" when a relative dropped him at the mine on Friday.

Police – hitherto resolutely upbeat –tempered their optimism yesterday. Superintendent Gary Knowles, the head of the operation, said: "We're planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what's occurred underground."

Nothing has been heard from the 29 men since a blast, believed to have been caused by a methane build-up, sent a fireball racing through the mine. Two other workers walked out later that day, but they were only part-way into the tunnel, some distance from the others. Experts said it was possible that the latter might have found a pocket of clean air, and New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, refused to give up hope, insisting there was "every chance" they were still alive.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own