New Zealand miners 'would not have survived second blast'

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The Independent Online

All 29 miners trapped in a New Zealand mine after an explosion were presumed dead today after a second blast occurred, rescuers said.

Devastated families were coming to terms today with the news that 29 miners, including two Britons, are presumed dead after a second explosion ripped through a New Zealand mine.



Police said the workers would not have survived the "horrific" second explosion and rescue teams were "now in recovery mode".



New Zealand's prime minister John Key said the country was "a nation in mourning".



Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, Fife, were among the men missing following Friday's initial blast at the Pike River mine in Atarau on the country's South Island.



Foreign Secretary William Hague sent his condolences to the families of the miners in a statement released today.



Mr Hague said the UK High Commission in New Zealand and consular officials in London had been in close contact with the families of Mr Rodger and Mr Campbell since Friday afternoon.



"We are doing all we can to support them at this time of terrible loss," he said.



Friends also paid tribute to the Scottish miners today.



John Daniel, 59, from Perth, Scotland, lived next door to Mr Rodger before he moved to New Zealand.



He said: "It's a terrible waste. We just can't get his smiling face out of our minds.



"He was an excellent neighbour. He was working away a lot on the rigs and I was working away overseas at times and we used to look after each other's houses.



"He always had a cheerful word for you. He was great."



The other Briton, Malcolm Campbell, had worked at the mine for two years and was due to marry fiancee Amanda Shields, 23, on December 18.



The missing men, aged 17 to 62, carried 30 minutes of oxygen, and more fresh air was stored in the mine, along with food and water.



Two workers stumbled out of the mine within hours of Friday's explosion but there was no contact with the remaining group of men, which included 24 New Zealanders, two Australians and a South African.



But rescue teams had been unable to go into the mine after the first blast because of high levels of toxic gases.



Superintendent Gary Knowles said: "Today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one would have survived. We are now in recovery mode."



He added: "The blast was horrific - just as severe as the first blast.



"Based on the expert advice I have been given, it's our belief there would have been no survivors.



"I had to break the news to the families and they were extremely distraught."



TV footage at the scene showed relatives in tears and hugging each other.



Family members started shouting and fell to the floor after they were told, one witness said.



A drilling team broke through yesterday to the section of mine where the men were working but were greeted by a blast of potentially deadly gases.



Explosive methane is believed to have caused Friday's blast.



Pike River mine chief executive Peter Whittall said the rescue teams were not doing anything that could have triggered the second blast.



"It was a natural eventuation: it could have happened on the second day, it could have happened on the third day," he said.



Pike River has operated since 2008, mining a seam with 58.5 million tons of coal, the largest-known deposit of hard coking coal in New Zealand, according to its website.



The mine is not far from the site of one of New Zealand's worst mining disasters: an underground explosion in the state-owned Strongman Mine on January 19 1967, which killed 19 workers.



The country's worst disaster was in 1896, when 65 died in a gas explosion, which also occurred in the same Pike River coal seam.

* The Queen said today she was "deeply saddened" at news of a second explosion. In a message from the Queen, sent to Mr Key, she said: "I am deeply saddened by today's news that there is now no hope for the men trapped in the Pike River mine.

"My heart goes out to the families and friends of these 29 brave miners and to all who have been touched by this national disaster. I send my thanks and deep appreciation to everyone who has worked so hard to attempt a rescue and also to those who will have a part to play in the task of healing the pain that is being felt throughout New Zealand and around the world."

"At this sad and difficult time my thoughts and prayers are with you all."

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Mr Key by telephone and expressed his "deepest sympathies", Downing Street said.



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