Police abandon efforts to recover miners' bodies

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The Independent Online

Police today abandoned efforts to recover the bodies of 29 miners, including two Britons, presumed dead after a series of explosions trapped them in a New Zealand mine.

Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, were among the men missing after the initial blast at the Pike River mine in Atarau on the country's South Island on November 19.

On November 24 police said the miners would not have survived the "horrific" second explosion, and rescue teams were "in recovery mode".

Today, New Zealand Police Commissioner Howard Broad said it was too dangerous to attempt to find the bodies and he would not put additional lives at risk.

Fires and explosive gases have stopped rescuers entering the mine for nearly two months.

Mr Broad said: "The likelihood of getting into the mine safely is unrealistic because it is too unsafe.

"In my view, it is time to focus on the living and to respect and memorialise those men who have died."

In a statement on the New Zealand Police website, Mr Broad said he had made his decision after advice from experts from Australia and New Zealand and from mine rescue personnel.

He said: "Based on all this advice it would have been quite wrong for the police to hold out great hope that the men will be recovered and I have decided that the recovery phase of this operation will come to a conclusion.

"The means of concluding this operation is by handing the mine back to the receiver who controls Pike River Coal Mine. I have written to the receiver today, outlining this point, and inviting him to immediately reply to this step."

Mr Broad said he had spoken with the families of the miners this afternoon.

The missing miners, aged 17 to 62, carried 30 minutes of oxygen and more fresh air was stored in the mine along with food and water, but all hope faded after news of the second blast.

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

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

On November 24, the Queen spoke of her sadness after it emerged the 29 miners were presumed dead.

The Prince of Wales and Prince William also sent messages of condolence to New Zealand prime minister John Key, who described his country as "a nation in mourning".

Tributes were also paid by other relatives of the men last year.

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.