New Zealand mine: relatives told to brace for deaths
Police have admitted for the first time that the 29 men missing following an explosion in a New Zealand mine on Friday are possibly dead.
Officers, who had previously insisted that they were committed to mounting a rescue operation to bring the men out alive, changed tack and began preparing the families of the men for the worst.
Hours after releasing an official list of the names of the men in the mine at the time of the blast, Superintendent Gary Knowles said that some of the miners may not have survived.
"We are keeping an open mind, we are optimistic, but we are planning for all options, including loss of life," he said.
Three days after the blast ripped through the mine of Friday afternoon, samples of gases from underground still showed high and fluctuating levels of methane and evidence of a small fire.
The conditions are considered too dangerous to send a human team in to look for the men.
Supt Knowles said that has been in touch with his counterparts in Chile and the US to discuss the best way to tackle the situation.
However, the conditions in the Pike River mine are significantly different to those facing the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued from the San Jose mine after 69 days underground.
While the Chilean miners were trapped by collapsed rock, the Pike River mine suffered a powerful explosion, which would have sent shockwaves, heat and poisonous gas into the coal seams where the 29 men, including two Britons, were working.
There is no evidence that any part of the mine has collapsed, indicating that the men could have walked out if they were able to.
The community in Greymouth, a close-knit mining town on the western coast of New Zealand's South Island, was last night bracing itself for bad news.
Phillippa Dunbar, mother of 17-year-old Joseph Ray Dunbar who was on his first day of work at the mine when the blast occurred, told TVNZ that she had accepted his fate.
"Friday night was the turning point for me," she said.
"When I saw the shaft bent over the way it was with all the black I just thought "nah". Because of my understanding of it... I knew that it was a pretty extensive big blast."
However, other families clung on to hope. Sonya Rockhouse, whose son Daniel survived the blast and escaped while her youngest son Benjamin remains unaccounted for, implored the community not to give up for the missing men.
"We wait, we pray, and with the love and prayers of so many we will have Ben back where he belongs," she said.
"Please do not give up hope."
A robot was last night expected to enter the Pike River mine in search of any evidence that the men might still be alive.
Once final tests had been completed and if the conditions were deemed to be safe, the battery-powered, remote-controlled device will carry a camera that will relay the first images from the inside of the mine back to the surface.
At the same time, a bore hole into "pit bottom", where the entrance tunnel ends and the warren of roadways into the coal face begin, was nearing completion.
Once drilling reaches the tunnel, gas sampling equipment, cameras and listening devices will be lowered into six inch-wide shaft to determine the conditions underground.
Mine operators have said that it is unlikely any of the missing group would be within sight of the bottom of the bore hole, but the information from the equipment will give rescue teams a much better picture of conditions within the mine.
Teams of rescuers were not expected to go underground for at least another day.