Further tragedy for family of miners

Ben Rockhouse
Ben Rockhouse

A family who had one son survive the Pike River mine explosion, and desperately await news on his brother still trapped, have faced further tragedy after the young men's grandfather died suddenly last night.

Pike River Coal miner Daniel Rockhouse, 24, received moderate injuries after an explosion at the mine yesterday. He was one of only two men to escape the mine. His youngest brother, Ben, has been trapped in the West Coast mine for more than 24 hours, along with 28 others.

A message on the Facebook site of Ben and Daniel's mother Sonya says "Sonya and our family are waiting patiently for good news. Sonya wants you all to pray for Ben's safe return. We love you Ben and Daniel!"

A further message left today says: "Just to also let you know that 'Rocky' (Neville's Dad) passed away suddenly last night. It's a terrible time for many. Rest in peace Rocky. Sonya will let you all know more when she can."

Neville Rockhouse, Ben and Daniel's father, is the safety & training manager at Pike River Coal.

Twenty-nine men are trapped at the Pike River Coal mine on the West Coast following an explosion yesterday afternoon. Rescuers have so far been unable to enter the mine due to concerns about the air quality and the safety of the mine for rescue teams.

A full list of the missing men has not been released by authorities and their families have so far avoided speaking to the large media contingent that has descended on the West Cost town of Greymouth.

The trapped men are aged between  17 and  62. Sixteen were mine staff and 13 were local contractors. The majority were New Zealanders, but there were also Australians and Britons in the group.

One Rockhouse family friend who sent messages of support to Sonya and Neville described Ben Rockhouse as the baby of the family.

In a poignant Facebook comment, posted the day before the explosion, Ben Rockhouse wrote "I'm sick and tired of being so ... accident prone. Can't go a day without hurting myself or a month without almost dieing (sic)"

Comments have been left in response include "Ben, we are keeping positive, you better answer this comment. Hurry home. Love Auntie Marg" and "Bennie boi, hope you come home to laugh at what you wrote. Just remember this been (sic) you accident prone but you're a survivor as well. Thinking of you and much love xxxx," from Jazz Auckram.

Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn today named two of the missing - local councillor Milton Osborne and rugby league representative Blair Sims - and said a father-of-five and a hotelier's son were also trapped.

Superintendent Gary Knowles, the Tasman police District Commander who is leading the rescue effort, told a press conference this afternoon that rescuers were ready to go as soon as the environment changes.

Safety was "paramount" to the rescue operation. "We're not going to put 16 men underground and risk their lives," he said.

"We don't work on gut feelings. We work on facts ... it's a case of safety first. I'm an eternal optimist that we are going to go down there and find these guys and bring them out."

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said air quality tests from this morning were inconclusive with no trends visible yet, as not enough samples had been done to be conclusive.

Levels of methane, ethane and carbon monoxide were being tested.

The miners' families and loved ones have been updated and it was a very trying time for them, he said.

Daniel Rockhouse
Daniel Rockhouse