24 Nov 2010

Second explosion ends all hope for miners

9:49 pm on 24 November 2010

A second massive explosion at the Pike River Coal mine has extinguished hope that the men trapped inside are still alive, and devastated the West Coast town of Greymouth.

There had been no communication from the 29 miners, the youngest aged just 17, since an explosion last Friday afternoon.

Rescuers had been standing by for five days in the hope that the atmosphere in the mine would clear enough to allow them to go in.

But on Wednesday afternoon came the devastating news of another explosion, which the police say was so powerful that no one could have survived it. The blast was at least as strong as the first one on Friday afternoon, they said.

A briefing for family members of the miners began in Greymouth at 4pm, but within about 10 minutes, individuals began to emerge sobbing and distressed. Several were taken away in ambulances.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it was one of the darkest days in the history of the West Coast, and devastating for the families involved. He said the people of Greymouth will not rest until the bodies have been found and removed.

At least two hundred people gathered for a church vigil in Greymouth on Wednesday night. Those attending included friends and family of the miners, community leaders, the mayor, local politicians and local people wishing to pay their respects.

Recovery mode

Police say there is now no chance of the miners being alive and they are going into recovery mode. They say they will never know whether any of the miners were alive before Wednesday's explosion.

The cause of the second explosion is not yet known, but Canterbury University geologist David Bell says it could have been caused by a build-up of hydrogen.

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall said monitoring of gases through a bore hole prior to the explosion revealed methane concentrations of 95%. Gas testing would continue, he said, because the mine remained as unsafe as before.

Mr Whittall said holding back rescuers because of the dangers to them had been borne out by the latest events.