By Michael Mckeand
A second explosion tore through a New Zealand mine today leaving no survivors, according to New Zealand police. Families of the 29 miners, including two Scottish men, who had been trapped in the Pike River coal mine since Friday, were informed of the disaster in a private meeting.
An initial explosion in the mine, located near Greymouth, on the north-west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, had occurred on Friday, leaving the miners trapped 2.3 km underground. Robots and cameras were sent into the mine today but had to be halted as a second massive explosion ripped through the mine. It has been confirmed by police that this second explosion has killed all those trapped in the mine.
“Unfortunately I have to inform the public of New Zealand at 2.37pm today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one would have survived,” said police superintendent Gary Knowles, in charge of the rescue operation at the Pike River mine.
Relatives emerged from the meeting crying. Many were angry and criticised the slow pace of the rescue efforts. Lawrie Drew, father of 21-year-old Zen Drew, said rescue teams should have entered the mine in the hours following the first blast, when the dangerous methane and carbon monoxide gases would have been sucked out of the mine. “There was a window of opportunity on Friday, why didn’t they take it?” he said.
Rescuers though have stressed that high levels of toxic and explosive gasses meant that rescue teams couldn’t themselves enter the mine making the rescue an extremely difficult operation.
New Zealand’s Prime minister has described the incident as a “national tragedy”. “New Zealand has been devastated by the news that we have all been dreading,” he told a televised press conference.
Among the dead are two Scots, 25-year-old Malcolm Campbell, and Peter Rodger, 40. In a statement, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said, “many British citizens have made their home in New Zealand and the loss of Mr Rodger, Mr Campbell and their colleagues will have touched the hearts of many in the UK.” The Queen has also made a statement, saying she is “deeply saddened” by the news.
Peter Whittal, the chief executive of Pike River Coal, who runs the mine, said they would make every effort to retrieve the bodies of the men, whose ages range from 17 to 62. In an emotional statement to reporters he said “We want our boys back and we want to get them out.”
New Zealand’s last mine disaster was in 1967 when 19 miners were killed in a gas explosion at Strongman mine, not far from Pike River. Their worst disaster was in 1896 at Brunner mine when another gas explosion killed 65 men.