Loss of life possible at NZ mine

Family, friends and work colleagues of the 29 miners and contractors trapped after Friday's explosion at the Pike River coal mine, comforting each other after their briefing with police and company representatives in Greymouth.
Family, friends and work colleagues of the 29 miners and contractors trapped after Friday's explosion at the Pike River coal mine, comforting each other after their briefing with police and company representatives in Greymouth. Mark Mitchell - NZ Herald

POLICE in New Zealand have said for the first time that lives could have been lost in the Pike River coal mine, where 29 miners are trapped underground.

"We still remain optimistic, we are still keeping an open mind, but we are planning for all outcomes and ... also in part of this process we are planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what is happening underground," Superintendent Gary Knowles told a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Get the latest updates on the Pike River rescue at

Tests still showed heating underground, meaning it was too dangerous to send in a rescue team, he said.

The 29 miners, including two Australians, have not been heard from since an explosion in the mine, northeast of Greymouth on the South Island, on Friday afternoon.

Earlier on Monday, the local mayor said the families of the miners needed to see some progress in rescue efforts.

Drilling of a 162-metre hole into the horizontal Pike River mine was due to be completed on Monday afternoon, but company chairman John Dow said it was unlikely toxic gas levels would stabilise enough to allow a rescue team to enter.

Asked if a rescue attempt would take place at the South Island mine on Monday, Mr Dow told the NZ Herald: "I don't think that will happen".

Gas samples being taken at the West Coast mine's main ventilation shaft were still showing high levels of toxic carbon dioxide and methane fumes, he said.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the methane explosion at the Pike River coalmine was the biggest tragedy to hit the tightly-knit Greymouth community.

"It's one of those nightmares that you've just got to face up to, we've got no choice," Mr Kokshoorn told AAP on Monday.

"We have to push on ... and not give up hope until we're told otherwise."

A busload of 40 anxious relatives of the trapped miners left a meeting in Greymouth town centre on Monday morning and took a one-hour drive out to the site of the remote mine, in Paparoa National Park.

They were shown maps of the horizontal mine, taken on a tour of the site and observed round-the-clock rescue operations.

"It just makes them feel better," Mr Kokshoorn said of the visit, which was also on offer for two family members of each miner on Sunday.

"They feel as though they're close to things.

"Their loved ones are down in that mine and it gives them an opportunity to be up there and be part of the rescue operation.

"The families, as you can expect, are finding it very hard to cope with the whole situation.

"They are despairing as each day goes by."

Mr Kokshoorn said he wasn't sure if the families of the two Australian men trapped in the mine - Joshua Ufer and Willy Joynson - headed out to the mine on Monday.

"I don't know who's who ... I'm just with the people that are grieving at the moment and are just gut-wrenched and want to be back with their loved ones," he said.

Mr Kokshoorn said officials would continue to escort relatives out to the mine daily if it helped ease their stress.

As soon as the hole was completed, a laser camera with 360-degree vision could then be lowered down and this might help to locate some of the miners, Mr Dow said.

"Ordinarily it's in an area where we wouldn't have people working but on this particular day there were people doing maintenance work in that area," he said.

"It would be nice to see people huddled around an air supply waving. But, honestly, the main purpose of the hole is to get gas samples.

"The reality of life is if people have survived, they will be huddled near an air supply or in a shelter somewhere.

"It's about seeing what you can see but mostly it's about getting a sample."

Mr Kokshoorn said he would be "disappointed" if no progress was made on rescue efforts by Tuesday morning.

"We just need to be able to progress this a bit further," he said.

"We need that just for the families' sake."

Family travel to NZ for grim wait

THE family of Australian miner Willy Joynson, missing after an explosion at a New Zealand mine, is clinging to hope the father of two is still alive.

Mr Joynson, 49, from Queensland's Fraser Coast, and Joshua Ufer, from Townsville, are among 29 miners missing since a gas explosion tore through the Pike River coal mine at Greymouth on NZ's South Island on Friday.

Rescuers are trying to determine if the air in the mine is safe enough to allow teams in to try to find the men.

Mr Joynson's sister Veronica Cook said the family wasn't giving up on him.

"You keep holding on to that little bit of hope that there is some chance," Ms Cook told ABC Radio on Monday.

Her sisters and brothers were flying to Greymouth on Monday afternoon to support Mr Joynson's wife Kim and their sons, aged 10 and 13.

Ms Cook said Kim was struggling.

"She's pretty shattered," she said.

She said the disaster had brought back bad memories of the day 13 miners died in the Kianga Mine disaster at Moura in central Queensland in 1975.

Her oldest brother lost his entire crew in that incident.

"My oldest brother used to work in mines but he pulled out of it because of the mine disaster in Moura. He's never gone back in," she said.

"He lost all his crew mates when it blew up."

That brother is among the siblings flying to Greymouth.

"We've just pulled together as a group and are trying to keep our morale up really," Ms Cook said.

"You always have that little bit of hope."

She said Mr Joynson, who'd worked in mines all his life, moved with his family to New Zealand a year ago but planned to return to Australia to live in January.

"He is a very good father to his kids. He's an excellent person. A hard worker," Ms Cook said.

"He grew up on the Fraser Coast."

Beaconsfield duo send wishes to miners' families

TWO Australians who survived two weeks underground in a Tasmanian mine have sent their best wishes to the families and rescuers of the 29 missing New Zealand miners.

The NZ workers are missing after an explosion at the Pike River coalmine at Greymouth, on the South Island, on Friday.

Rescuers are trying to determine if the air in the mine is safe enough to allow teams in to look for the group of miners.

For Brant Webb, who was trapped for two weeks with Todd Russell after a rockfall at the Beaconsfield goldmine in 2006, seeing the families of those involved was a painful reminder of his own experience.

"The wife told me and the kids told me what it was like for them - but to see it first hand on the faces of those guys in New Zealand is pretty tough," he told AAP on Monday.

Mr Webb said it was a difficult decision to not send a rescue crew in straight away.

"I really feel for the rescuers ... they'd be champing at the bit to get down there and get their mates out," he said.

"They put Todd and I in that position and we said: `No, no, don't anyone risk their lives to get us out'.

"We were a bit shit scared that if a rescuer died they wouldn't come for us. They could've probably had us out within the first few hours, but you don't want people risking their lives."

Mr Webb said there was always a chance of survival if the miners had used their oxygen bottles as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Mr Russell said small mining communities like Beaconsfield and Greymouth tended to bind together in tough times.

"All you can do is stick together as one, use each other, rely on each other, and keep yourself motivated," he said.

Government 'doing all it can' for NZ miners

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says the government is doing all it can to help New Zealand authorities rescue trapped miners, including two Australians.

Townsville-born Josh Ufer, 27, and father-of-two Willy Joynson, 49, from Queensland's Fraser Coast, are among 29 miners missing following an explosion at Pike River coal mine, on New Zealand's south island, on Friday.

Mr Rudd told Sky News on Monday he had been in touch with both families.

"They are doing it very tough ... (but) they are dealing with a very difficult situation very well," Mr Rudd said.

"These families both come from Queensland, the coalmining centre of Australia, and they are in there hoping, as we all are."

Mr Rudd said a representative from Emergency Management Australia had been sent to Christchurch to be the government's eyes and ears on the ground.

There were also mine safety experts at the site itself and equipment was arriving.

"We are seeking to co-ordinate this so that our Kiwi friends know that everything that they need that we can access, given that we're just across the ditch from them, we can get there very quickly," Mr Rudd said.

Trapped miners names released

Police have officially named the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River coal mine on the West Coast since Friday - including Australian pair Joshua Ufer and William Joynson.

At a 10am media conference, Tasman District police area commander Superintendent Gary Knowles read out the names and ages of those missing.

"It is really important that we start putting names to our people, so that people know who they are and they are not nameless faces," he said prior to reading them out.

The trapped miners:

Conrad Adams, 43 (Greymouth), Malcolm Campbell, 25 (Greymouth - Scottish), Glen Cruse, 35 (Cobden), Allan Dixon, 59 (Rununga),
Zen Drew, 21 (Greymouth), Christopher Duggan, 31 (Greymouth), Joseph Dunbar, 17 (Greymouth), John Hale, 45 (Ruatapu), Daniel Herk, 36 (Rununga), David Hoggart, 33 (Foxton), Richard Holling, 41 (Blackball), Andrew Hurren, 32 (Greymouth), Jacobus 'Koos' Jonker, 47 (Coben - South African), William Joynson, 49 (Dunollie - Australian), Riki Keane, 28 (Greymouth), Terry Kitchin, 41 (Runanga), Samuel Mackie, 26 (Greymouth), Francis Marden, 42 (Runanga), Michael Monk, 23 (Greymouth), Stuart Mudge, 31 (Rununga), Kane Nieper, 33 (Greymouth), Peter O'Neill, 55 (Rununga), Milton Osborne, 54 (Ngahere), Brendan Palmer, 27 (Cobden), Benjamin Rockhouse, 21 (Greymouth), Peter Rodger, 40 (Greymouth - British), Blair Sims, 28 (Greymouth), Joshua Ufer 25 (Australia), Keith Valli, 62 (Winton).

The names of the miners have also been posted on the police website later this morning.

Mr Knowles said after three days without contact the situation remained "grave" but he said drilling at the site was continuing and progress was going well.

He said the Department of Conservation, which owns the land where the mine is sited, had agreed to allow a 2.7km path up to the main ventilation site to be cut, making it easier to take air samples.

The site is currently only accessible by helicopter.

Mr Knowles said rescuers were also looking at getting a fibre optic cable so that the site could be monitored visually from basecamp.

Mr Knowles said the rescue team remained on standby and were looking at what sections of the mine they could enter first.

"We've also been in close contact with the defence department and will be utilising if possible a robot on site to go into the tunnel when the opportunity arises.

Mr Knowles said they plan to also use seismic equipment on top of the ground to detect movement underground.

Testing of the gas levels in the mine was being carried out every half hour and so far remained unsafe.

"We remain optimistic," Mr Knowles said. "But at the end of the day this is a search and recovery operation. We are going to go in and do our best to bring these guys to out."

Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said the team drilling overnight had done a "phenomenal job" and had reached 100 metres of the 162 metres they needed to drill to.

"In the last 10 metres before we get to the scene we will change drilling method to ensure we don't get any sparking," he said.

"We have opportunities to sample gas from that point. We will have an opportunity to put laser imaging gear down the hole.

"We will also be able to put down video camera information and look at anything we are able to see in the hole."

He said the Defence Force robot would not be sent into the mine while there was any chance of it causing a spark.

Mr Whittall said the blast was "a unique event".

"At the time of the incident there was an unsafe incident. Otherwise this would not have occurred."

Mr Whittall said buses would be available to take families back to the site later today.

He asked media not to speculate.

"There's a lot of speculation. The only ones that really know what is going on is the people who are on site."

Prime Minister John Key also addressed media, saying these were "very testing and difficult days for Greymouth, which is a tight-knit community".

"There is no question that the families are showing high levels of fear, anxiety and frustration. But we owe it to the men that are underground that we undertake a rescue that does not endanger their lives any further," Mr Key said.

"We are going to get through this and do everything we possibly can to get the men out alive. That is our single focus at the moment," he said.

"In due course there will be a time to reflect what went wrong and what lessons can be learnt. It goes without saying there will be a number of inquiries."

Asked whether he would consider closing down the mine permanently, Mr Key warned against speculation.

"You are asking us to speculate on something we don't know. Let's what and see what pans out. But whatever happens here there will be an inquiry or several inquiries and we will need to ask ourselves some tough questions," he said.

"When these mines were started it was done so on the knowledge it was safe. We would not have allowed anyone to go into the mine if it wasn't."

He said the cause of the explosion was unclear and he didn't want to jump to conclusions on the stability of mines in the area.

Mr Key said he had received messages of support from international leaders including United States President Barack Obama.

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