/ 22 November 2010

New Zealand rescue planning for ‘possible loss of life’

Rescuers at a New Zealand mine where 29 men are missing after an explosion last week were preparing for “possible loss of life”, police said on Monday for the first time.

“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.

It was the rescue operation chief’s most downbeat assessment yet of the miners’ chances of survival following Friday’s blast at the Pike River coal mine in a remote area of New Zealand’s South Island.

Previously, Knowles has stressed that he was overseeing a search and rescue operation “with the emphasis on rescue”.

The has been no contact with the men since the explosion at the colliery, about 50 km from the town of Greymouth, and rescuers have been unable to enter the mine because of the danger from hazardous gases.

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said a bore hole being drilled to the mine shaft was expected to be completed on Monday night.

He said drilling, which began on Sunday, had reached a depth of 135 m and had about 25 m left to go.

The 15 cm hole will be used to take air samples and funnel laser-imaging equipment and video cameras down to give a clearer picture of the situation.

But Whittall also acknowledged hopes of finding any survivors were fading.

“The reality is, for the families now it’s becoming more and more grave with every hour that goes past,” he said. — Sapa-AFP