NZ braces for mine deaths

Hopes fade: Relatives prepare for the worst at Kiwi site

The trapped miners have not been heard from since the explosion tore through the Pike Lucky: Mine blast survivor Daniel Rockhouse hugs family members in Greymouth, New Zealand, on Monday. ReutersRiver colliery on Friday, with frustrated rescuers unable to go underground due to a cocktail of dangerous gases in the South Island mine.

Emergency crews were drilling a small hole down to the mine shaft to glean a clearer picture of conditions in the pit, but the rescue operation chief said they had to prepare for fatalities.

“We still remain optimistic, we’re still keeping an open mind but we are planning for all outcomes and this also includes... the possible loss of life as a result of what’s occurred,” police superintendent Gary Knowles said. Prime Minister John Key had said there was “every chance” the missing men -- who include 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African -- were still alive.

Grim prospect

But as the rescue dragged on, New Zealanders were left contemplating the grim prospect of the country’s worst mining disaster in almost a century.

One of the missing miners is 17-year-old Joseph Dunbar, who was on his first day in the job, having persuaded bosses to let him experience his first time down a mine early before officially starting work on Monday.

Dunbar’s mother Pip Timms said she feared the worst.

One of only two men to make it out of the New Zealand mine, located in a remote region on the country’s western coast, described an extremely powerful explosion that blew him off his feet. It sounded like a “shotgun blast but much, much louder and more powerful,” said Daniel Rockhouse, 24, whose brother Ben is still in the mine.

“I got up and there was thick white smoke everywhere — worse than a fire. I knew straight away that it was carbon monoxide,” he said.

Rescuers were drilling a hole through to the mine shaft, which would be used to take air samples and funnel laser-imaging equipment and video cameras down. They also hoped to send a robot carrying a camera part way down the mine shaft.

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