Hope Fades for New Zealand Miners

Rescue teams in New Zealand admit they do not know the condition or even the location of the 29 men, including two Australians, trapped underground at the Pike River coal mine.

Family members are saying privately that they do not think they are going to be seeing their men coming out alive and the mood is a lot more sombre.

But this morning New Zealand prime minister John Key insisted there was “every chance” that the 29 miners were still alive.

“The advice I have is that there is oxygen in the mine and there is every chance that those miners have managed to get to a pocket of that oxygen flow and therefore that they are alive,” Mr Key told Sky News.

A gas explosion rocked the Pike River Mine near Greymouth on Friday, and rescuers have not been able to contact the trapped men.

Efforts to enter the mine are being hampered by fierce heat and toxic gases.

The coal miners have now spent a third night trapped underground, without any word on their condition.

The mine’s management admits it does not know how the trapped miners are faring or even exactly where they are.

But New Zealand Mine Rescue general manager Trevor Watts says teams are on standby to enter the mine as soon as the toxic gases abate.

“The logistics of deployment underground are quite vast,” he said.

“We’re talking 2.5 kilometres from the portal to the first intersection in the mine that will have to be done by the rescue teams.”

The mine has a labyrinth of tunnels and the miners were working hundreds of metres apart at the time of the explosion.

Authorities have said they will not enter the mine until the air quality has improved, and yesterday began drilling a new shaft to test it.

But drilling the shaft could take as long as 24 hours – the long process adding to the frustrations of the families of the miners.

“The drilling of the small hole is about halfway through, so about 70-80 metres to go,” the country’s energy minister, Gerry Brownlee, said.

“They would expect to get pretty accurate conditions about the condition of the atmosphere in the pit part of the mine once that breakthrough has occurred.”

Anxious relatives wait for news

It has been a traumatic wait on the surface for family and friends of the trapped men, who range in age from 17 to 62 and include two Britons, two Australians and a South African.

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the locals are bereft.

“There is just a sense of helplessness quite frankly, because we haven’t got a search and rescue started yet and that is what everyone is just praying for,” he said.

“We just want that search and rescue to commence. It is like being in limbo waiting for it.

“We are just going nowhere and every hour that goes past is an hour lost.”

Mr Kokshoorn says people are sticking together and supporting each other, but are growing more and more anxious about the plight of their loved ones and friends.

Mr Kokshoorn, himself, knows about half a dozen people trapped in the mine.

“Milton Osborn, he is a councillor. He is one of my councillors. I am very closely involved with him all the time,” he said.

“I know about five or six of the other people. Their parents are good friends of mine. I mean, it is a ripple effect right through the community. There is no question about that.”

The Vicar of Greymouth’s Holy Trinity Church, Marge Tefft, says people are praying for a miracle.

‘Well, it is a very sombre mood at the moment and growing anxiety for the welfare of the trapped miners,” she said.

“We don’t give up hope but we are not unrealistic either of what the possible outcome might be.”

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