A second explosion at the Pike River coal mine in New Zealand has left absoltely no hope for the 29 men trapped beneath ground.
Prime Minister John Key said tonight New Zealand was a nation in mourning and the Pike River coal mine disaster was a national tragedy – New Zeaalnd’s worst since the 1979 Erebus plance crash which killed 257 people.
“There are 29 men whose faces and names we have come to know, who will never walk among us again,” he said in an emotional speech at a press conference that followed the news that a second explosion at the West Coast mine this afternoon meant there were no survivors.
The 29 miners and contractors had not been heard of since an initial explosion on Friday afternoon.
“This has been the news that all of New Zealand has been dreading,” Mr Key said.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall broke the heart-breaking news to the families of the miners around 4pm, after he witnessed footage of the second explosion at 2.37pm.
It was much bigger than last Friday’s blast.
“This probably takes it up to a point where I’m unlikely to see workmates again, I’m unlikely to see them walk out of that mine,” an emotional Mr Whittall, supported by his family, told a press conference.
“This is going to be very difficult on the families. This is devastating news for them.”
Some of the families have criticised the ongoing decisions for rescuers not to enter the mine, but Mr Whittall was at pains tonight to say the caution had saved the lives of many more men — that it had been too dangerous for rescuers to go in.
“They (rescue teams) analysed and went through the risk protocols, and all the people who said they should have just gone in anyway have just been shown why they shouldn’t have gone in.
“The men underground I’m sure would have understood that.”
An upset Laurie Drew, father of missing miner Zen Drew, was the first to speak to the news media, telling them of the explosion. “I’m still hoping there is a miracle left,” he said later.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who was at the civic centre when the news was broken to the families, said: “This is the West Coast’s darkest hour”.
The news was “sickening”, and families were devastated.
“People were angry, shouting, some fell to the floor when they were told,” he said.
All flags on government buildings would fly at half-mast tomorrow, he said.
The Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, said tonight that grief from the deaths would be felt for many years to come.
“Sadly the West Coast has had to face other tragedies in the past. The collective strength of the community will again be vital in facing this event, and in dealing with the enormous sense of grief that will be felt for many years to come.”
Mr Key said Cabinet would confirm details of a commission of inquiry into the disaster on Monday.
Separate coronial and police and Labour Department inquiries are also expected to be held.