Pike River: 'Our darkest hour'

10:04, Nov 24 2010
mine entrance
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers were trapped after an explosion.
car
A Pike River Coal company vehicle sits at the closest safe point to the entrance of the mine where 29 workers were trapped inside after an explosion.
WINDOW TO THE SOUL: A community's support for the 29 miners and contractors trapped in the Pike River mine is summed up by a sign in a Greymouth shop.
A community's support for the 29 miners and contractors who were trapped in the Pike River mine is summed up by a sign in a Greymouth shop.
Pike River Coal mine
SHOCK: Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.
Robot 3
An images taken by one of the robots in the Pike River mine.
Pike River family 1
After family members were told of the second massive explosion at the Pike River mine.
Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.
Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.
Gerry Brownlee and Peter Whittall
Gerry Brownlee and Peter Whittall leave a meeting where they told family of a second explosion today.
END OF HOPE: Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall holds a press conference were he said that a second explosion has blasted the Pike River coal mine, with none of the 29 trapped miners able to survive it.
END OF HOPE: Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall holds a press conference were he said that a second explosion has blasted the Pike River coal mine, with none of the 29 trapped miners able to survive it.
Family members of miners trapped underground in the GRIEF: Pike River coal mine react after learning of a second explosion in the mine at a briefing by mine authorities and police.
GRIEF: Family members of miners trapped underground in the Pike River coal mine react after learning of a second explosion in the mine at a briefing by mine authorities and police.
ANGUISH: A woman grieves after relatives were told the trapped Pike River miners were dead.
ANGUISH: A woman grieves after relatives were told the trapped Pike River miners were dead.
brownlee
TENSE TIME: Mines Minister Gerry Brownlee takes a phone call outside the press conference at the Greymouth police station.
miners hall
CORNERSTONE OF THE COMMUNITY: A local passes the miners hall in Runanga on the outskirts of Greymouth.
ANGUISH: Prime Minister John Key holds a press conference after the second explosion at Pike River mine where no miners have survived.
ANGUISH: Prime Minister John Key holds a press conference after the second explosion at Pike River mine where no miners have survived.
A COMMUNITY IN MOURNING: A woman outside Revingtons Hotel in Greymouth not long after hearing the miners were dead.
A COMMUNITY IN MOURNING: A woman outside Revingtons Hotel in Greymouth not long after hearing the miners were dead.
END OF HOPE: Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall holds a press conference were he said that a second explosion has blasted the Pike River coal mine, with none of the 29 trapped miners able to survive it.
END OF HOPE: Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall holds a press conference were he said that a second explosion has blasted the Pike River coal mine, with none of the 29 trapped miners able to survive it.
REMEMBRANCE: Burning candles at Holy Trinity Anglican Church during a candlelight vigil in Greymouth.
REMEMBRANCE: Burning candles at Holy Trinity Anglican Church during a candlelight vigil in Greymouth.
WORDS FROM THE GRIEVING: Messages left at Holy Trinity Anglican Church after a candlelight vigil.
WORDS FROM THE GRIEVING: Messages left at Holy Trinity Anglican Church after a candlelight vigil.
Pike River miners
Neville Rockhouse, centre, father of perished miner Benjamin Rockhouse, and Daniel Rockhouse, one of the two miners that survived the tragedy.
Flags at half mast for Pike River miners
Flags fly at half mast at Parliament in Wellington, the courthouse in Greymouth and St Peters Cathedral in Hamilton.
John Key arrives in Greymouth to speak to families of mine victims
Prime Minister John Key arrives in Greymouth to speak to families of mine victims.
John Key arrives at Greymouth airport and is met by National minister Gerry Brownlee and waiting media.
John Key arrives at Greymouth airport and is met by National minister Gerry Brownlee and waiting media.
A condolences book for people to sign has been set up at the Christ Church Cathedral.
REMEMBERING: A condolences book for people to sign has been set up at the ChristChurch Cathedral. Jessica Oates of Christchurch, lights a candle after signing.
TRIBUTE: Flowers left at the first gate into the Pike River mining site.
TRIBUTE: Flowers left at the first gate into the Pike River mining site.
Pike River disaster - GAG unit
The 'GAG' unit - a modified jet engine to be used to try to neutralise the atmosphere in the mine to allow a recovery team to go in - rolls towards the Pike River mine.
Pike River Coal disaster - church service
Mourners gathered at St Patricks Catholic Church in Greymouth to remember those who perished in the Pike River mine tragedy.
Taonui School
IN MEMORY: Jaron Carr secures his message of condolence to the miners at Taonui School, near Feilding, today.
Pike River Coal mine
ON GUARD: A police officer by the entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where floral tributes have been placed.
Bagpiper practices for Pike River Mine memorial.
Bagpiper Bruce Keddie practising his pipes for the upcoming memorial for the dead miners. His nephew Brendan Palmer was one of those killed in the mine.
Pike River Tag Board
TAG BOARD: The tag board containing photo tags of the 29 workers killed in the Pike River Coal Mine, Greymouth.
Miner lays down flowers.
PAYING RESPECT: A miner laying down flowers at the White Knight Bridge near the entrance to the Pike River mine.
Miner gets tattoo.
LASTING TRIBUTE: A Pike River miner paying tribute to his friends and colleagues with a tattoo.
Pandora store closed.
CLOSED: Many stores in Greymouth are closing for the memorial service out of respect.
Steve Johnson takes a moment.
QUIET REFLECTION: Steve Johnson from Blackball takes a moment on the beach in Greymouth.
Pike River mine disaster remembrance service
Early arrivals at Omoto Racecourse for the remembrance service for the 29 miners who died at Pike River.
Pike River Mine remembrance service
Nuns arrive for the remembrance service for the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine disaster.
Pike River remembrance service
Personal items of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine disaster are displayed as mourners gather for a remembrance service.
Pike River remembrance service
Mourners gathering for a remembrance service look at personal items of the men killed in the Pike River mine disaster.
Pike River memorial day - flags at half mast at Parliament.
New Zealand, South African, Australian and British flags fly at Parliament on memorial day for the miners who died in the Pike River mine disaster.
Peter Whittall speaks at memorial
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall speaks at the memorial for the 29 miners who died in the Pike River mine disaster.
Reverend Tim Mora
Reverend Tim Mora speaks to the memorial for the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine disaster.
PM John Key addresses the Pike River mine disaster memorial
Prime Minister addresses the memorial for the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine disaster.
Pike River mine memorial
Thousands gather for the memorial for the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine disaster.
Pike River memorial
REMEMBERING: Two mourners at the memorial service for the 29 miners who died at Pike River Mine.
Prime Minister John Key comforts his wife Broghan after paying respects to the 29 tables representing dead miners.
Prime Minister John Key comforts his wife Bronagh after paying respects to the 29 tables representing the dead miners.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn takes a deep breath after walking past the 29 table with wife Lynne.
Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn takes a deep breath after walking past the 29 table with wife Lynne.
A mourner wears a yellow ribbon at the memorial service for the 29 Pike River coal miners.
A police officer wears a yellow ribbon at the memorial service for the 29 dead Pike River coal miners.
Thousands gathered at the Omoto Racecourse to remember the 29 dead Pike River miners.
Thousands gathered at Omoto Racecourse to remember the 29 dead Pike River miners.

Family members fell to the ground in grief after learning the 29 trapped miners could not have survived a second explosion, marking New Zealand's worst single loss of life since Erebus.

Distraught family members left a scheduled briefing this afternoon, only about 10 minutes after it had started, and many of them were in tears. They had been told their family members - underground since a first massive gas explosion on Friday - could not have survived the second blast.

About 200 people, including Opposition leader Phil Goff, Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn and Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall attended the vigil for the miners, which had been held each day since the miners first went missing on Friday.

One of the two men who walked out of the mine on Friday, Daniel Rockhouse, also attended the service with his family who spent several minutes embracing Whittall.

Father John Morrison, of the St Patrick's Catholic Church just down the road, read a message from Pope Benedict XVI in which the Pope expressed his condolences and sympathy for the events in Greymouth.

The message said he was distressed to hear of the accident and he shared the anxiety of the families. He remembered them in a special way in his prayers and he invoked a blessing to give people courage and strength.

Anglican vicar Marge Teffe addressed the packed church first, saying it was a devastating day for the West Coast. She paid tribute to Whittall and said, "we don't know how you do it".

mine
File photo of a rock conveyor exiting the Pike River coal mine
Pike River Coal mine
Site of the Pike River Coal mine.
Pike River Coal mine
A diagram of the Pike River Coal mine.
Pike River Coal mine
A diagram of the Pike River Coal mine.
Pike River Coal mine
A file photo of a portal in the Pike River Coal mine.
Pike River Coal mine
A file photo of the construction of a tunnel in the mine.
Pike River Coal Mine location
Pike River Coal Mine location
Pike River Coal mine
The police cordon near the Pike River Mine where miners are missing after an explosion.
Blair Sims
Blair Sims, making the tackle, has been named as one of those trapped in the mine.
Peter Whittall
WAITING: Relatives of the miners and contractors trapped in the Pike River Mine leave a meeting after being briefed by mine management in Greymouth.
John Key
John Key prepares to board an airforce plane to travel to Greymouth and the scene of the Pike River coal mine explosion.
HARD TIME: Family members of one of the 29 miners and contractors leave a meeting after being briefed by mine management on Saturday morning.
Family members of the 29 miners and contractors after a meeting with mine management on Saturday morning.
HARD TIME: Family members of one of the 29 miners and contractors leave a meeting after being briefed by mine management on Saturday morning.
Family members of the 29 miners and contractors go to a meeting with mine management.
HARD TIME: Family members of one of the 29 miners and contractors leave a meeting after being briefed by mine management on Saturday morning.
Family members of the 29 miners and contractors after a meeting with mine management on Saturday morning.
Pike River
REMOTE ROAD: A signboard of the access road leading to the Pike River mine where miners are trapped underground in Greymouth.
A church service for friends and family to light a candle for the trapped miners at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth.
A church service for friends and family to light a candle for the trapped miners, at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth.
Children at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth light candles for the trapped miners.
Children at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth light candles for the trapped miners.
Churchgoers at a service for friends and family of the trapped miners, at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth.
Churchgoers at a service for friends and family of the trapped miners, at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth.
Greymouth mine disaster
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Greymouth mine disaster
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Mine disaster
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Mine gallery
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Mine disaster
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Mine gallery
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Mine gallery
The family and friends of the missing miners support each other while waiting for news.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall and Police Superintendent Gary Knowles
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall and Police Superintendent Gary Knowles at Sunday morning's press conference.
mine entrance
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers were trapped after an explosion.
car
A Pike River Coal company vehicle sits at the closest safe point to the entrance of the mine where 29 workers were trapped inside after an explosion.
Robot
The first Defence Force robot to be used in the mine rescue.
whittall
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall shows the strain.
Bernie Monk, father of trapped miner Michael Monk
Bernie Monk, the father of trapped miner Michael Monk, after the Tuesday morning briefing for relatives, five days after the explosion.
Martin Palmer, father of trapped miner Brendan Palmer
Relatives console each other after Tuesday morning's briefing, five days since the Pike River Coal mine explosion. At left is Martin Palmer, father of trapped miner Brendan Palmer.
Pike River Coal mine relatives
Relatives console each other after Tuesday morning's briefing, five days since the Pike River Coal mine explosion. At right is Trevor O'Neill, brother of trapped miner Peter O'Neill.
Pike Rover Coal mine
Left to right: Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee, Police Commissioner Howard Broad, and Police Minister Judith Collins at Greymouth on Tuesday.
Pike River Coal mine
Relatives gather after Tuesday morning's briefing, five days since the Pike River Coal mine explosion.
Pike River Coal mine rescue efort
An Air Force Iroquois drops off Search and Rescue crew working on the Pike River Coal mine rescue operation back in Greymouth on Tuesday.
Pike River operation
A helicopter flies over the Pike River coal mine near Greymouth.
AGONY OF WAITING: Family leave a briefing after viewing CCTV footage of the explosion at the Pike River coal mine.
Family leave a briefing after viewing CCTV footage of the explosion at the Pike River coal mine.
AGONY OF WAITING: Family leave a briefing after viewing CCTV footage of the explosion at the Pike River coal mine.
Family leave a briefing after viewing CCTV footage of the explosion at the Pike River coal mine.
Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall, shows a projected map of the mine at a media briefing.
Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall shows a projected map of the mine at a media briefing.
Aerial view of drilling rig at Pike River coal mine.
An aerial view of drilling rig at Pike River coal mine.
WINDOW TO THE SOUL: A community's support for the 29 miners and contractors trapped in the Pike River mine is summed up by a sign in a Greymouth shop.
A community's support for the 29 miners and contractors who were trapped in the Pike River mine is summed up by a sign in a Greymouth shop.
A third robot arrived from Australia this morning on a New Zealand Airforce hercules.
A third robot arrived from Australia this morning on a New Zealand Airforce hercules.
The third robot was unloaded at Hokitika airport shortly after 8am.
The third robot was unloaded at Hokitika airport shortly after 8am.
The third robot, from Australia, arrived when two Defence Force robots were already in the mine.
The third robot, from Australia, arrived when two Defence Force robots were already in the mine.
Pike River Coal mine relatives
Relatives leave their morning briefing on the Pike River Coal mine crisis at the Grey District Council buildings on Wednesday.
Pike River Coal mine relatives
Relatives leave their morning briefing on the Pike River Coal mine crisis at the Grey District Council buildings on Wednesday.
Pike River Coal mine relatives
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, left, comforts relatives after Wednesday morning's briefing on the Pike River Coal Mine disaster.
Gerry Brownlee
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee takes a phone call outside the press conference at the police station on Wednesday.
Pike River Coal mine disaster
A local passes the miners hall in Runanga on the outskirts of Greymouth on Wednesday.
Pike River Mine disaster
Mine rescue co-ordinator Superintendent Gary Knowles, left, and mine boss Peter Whittall front the media on Wednesday.
Pike River Coal mine
SHOCK: Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.

Miner Zen Drew's father said he had accepted his son is dead.

Flanked by son Terry, partner Mandy and wearing 21-year-old Zen's jacket, Lawrie Drew told CloseUp that because he was "in tune" with Zen, he had accepted he was dead before this afternoon's explosion.

Despite that, he had still been hoping for a miracle.

"We just want our loved ones so we can get closure now and then let the process take course," he said.

The families had been clapping just before Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall told them the bad news as they believed progress was being made.

"... then he hushed us up and told us the bomb shell," Mr Drew said.

Most families had "lost it", shouting and asking why rescuers had not gone into the mine on Friday night.

Mr Drew said he felt like he had failed his son because he had been unable to protect him.

He accused the mine of being unsafe and said he wanted an inquiry and to see "the truth come out".

The brother of lost miner Conrad Adams said he just wanted his brother to come home.

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Chris Duggan
CHRIS DUGGAN: 31, Greymouth.
Malcolm Campbell
MALCOLM CAMPBELL: 25, Greymouth. Was due to marry Kiwi fiancee Amanda on December 18. Originally from St Andrews in Fife, Scotland.
Pete Rodger
PETE RODGER: 40, Greymouth. From Perth, Scotland, and lived in New Zealand with his girlfriend.
Ben Rockhouse
BEN ROCKHOUSE: 21, Greymouth. The younger brother of coal miner Daniel Rockhouse, 24, who was one of only two men to escape the mine.
Josh Ufer
JOSH UFER: 25, Middlemount, Queensland, Australia. Ufer's fiancee, Rachelle Weaver, is three months pregnant.
Milton Osborne
MILTON OSBORNE: 54, Ngahere. A Grey District councillor and contractor at the Pike River mine.
Missing miner Brendon Palmer
BRENDON PALMER: 27, Cobden. Second-generation miner - his father Marty also works at the Pike River Mine.
missing miner Blair Sims
BLAIR SIMS: 28, Greymouth. Married with two young children. Was West Coast rugby league player of the year for the past two years.
Michael Mony, missing miner
MICHAEL MONK: 23, Greymouth. Rugby rep for the West Coast. Had a long-term girlfriend. Son of hotelier Bernie Monk and West Coast netball rep and coach Cath Monk.
missing miner Zen Drew
ZEN DREW: 21, Greymouth.
missing miner Conrad Adams
CONRAD ADAMS: 43, Greymouth.
Jacobus Albertus Jonker
JACOBUS ALBERTUS JONKER: 47, Cobden, South Africa.
Stuart Mudge
STUART MUDGE: 31, Runanga. Orginally from Whangarei. His dad said working in the mine gave Stuart an "outlet for his energy".
David Mark Hoggart
DAVID MARK HOGGART: 33, Foxton.
John Leonard Hale
JOHN LEONARD HALE: 45, Ruatapu. Lived in neighbouring house to partner Brenda Rackley on the outskirts of Hokitika. Hale was a contractor for Chris Yeats Builders.
Andrew David Hurren
ANDREW DAVID HURREN: 32, Hokitika. A keen hunter and fisherman, known as Huck to his friends.
Daniel Thomas Herk
DANIEL THOMAS HERK: 36, Runanga. Grew up between Greymouth and Hokitika and has done a lot of mine work, his grandfather says.
Glen Peter Cruse
GLEN PETER CRUSE: 35, Cobden. Grew up in Greymouth. Leaves a partner and two children.
Joseph Ray Dunbar
JOSEPH RAY DUNBAR: 17, Greymouth. The youngest of the miners. The day of the explosion was his first day working underground.
Kane Barry Nieper
KANE BARRY NIEPER: 33, Greymouth. Nieper was married with a young family.
Riki Steve Keane
RIKI STEVE KEANE: 28, Greymouth. First five-eighth for the Blaketown Rugby Football Club, one of three club members to perish in the mine.
Keith Thomas Valli
KEITH THOMAS VALLI: 62, Winton. The oldest of the 29 miners.
Peter O'Neill
PETER O'NEILL: 55, Runanga. Member of a well known mining family and keen lawn bowler.
Richard Bennett Holling
RICHARD BENNETT HOLLING: 41, Blackball. Grew up in Christchurch and is the first of his family to go down a mine.
Samuel Peter Mackie
SAMUEL PETER MACKIE: 26, Greymouth.
Terry David Kitchin
TERRY DAVID KITCHIN: 41, Rununga. Has three children under the age of 10.
William John Joynson
WILLIAM JOHN JOYNSON: 49, Dunollie, Australia. An experienced underground miner who worked for many years in the Burgowan mines at Howard, near Bundaberg. His wife and two children live in Queensland.
 Allan John Dixon, 59, Runanga, miner
ALAN JOHN DIXON: 59, Runanga. Leaves a partner and two sons.
Francis Skiddy Marden
FRANCIS SKIDDY MARDEN: 41, Runanga.

"Conrad Adams is down the mine and he's my brother. It's just a terrible thing to have to think about. He's my brother and he's got two children he loves more than anything in the world. And his mother. And he has a sister whose very dear to him. He's an uncle, he's a brother-in-law and we just all want him to come home,'' Clayton Adams said.

His older brother Conrad was extremely popular on the coast, Clayton said.  ``He's a huge presence, I guess, in my life. We've met people throughout the last couple of days and they say, 'I know your brother. Everyone knows Conrad. I had a laugh with him just the other day','' he said.

'A NATIONAL TRAGEDY'

Prime Minister John Key said the country would be devastated by the "national tragedy".

"To lose this many brothers at once strikes an agonising blow."

Key confirmed a rescue team was preparing to go into the mine just before the second explosion ripped through it at 2.37pm.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn broke down as he left the family briefing.

"They told us there was a massive explosion and there was no way there were any survivors.

"We thought we were going to get some good news."

He said family members dropped to the floor after hearing the news, with many angry at how police had handled the operation.

"They just dropped to the floor. It's anger, as simple as that."

"It's just gut-wrenching. This is our darkest hour."

Kokshoorn said for days there had been discussion among locals that the safest time to enter a mine was straight after an explosion.

He said the second explosion was "far bigger than the first".

"What we've got is a very angry group of families."

He said it appeared a lethal mixture of gases had ignited the mine.

 "It doesn't get worse than this ... this is the West Coast's darkest hour."

He said it was time for families and locals to "concentrate on the people we've lost".

RECOVERY PROMISE

Pike River CEO Peter Whittall reassured families of the victims that the company would do what it could to recover bodies.

"I still want them back and their families want them back and we'll be doing everything we can to make that happen.

''My love and support are with those guys,'' he said.

The families are ''absolutely devastated by the news".

''They had all held out hope that their son, their brother would be the lucky one,'' he said.

His voice cracked as he said, "I'm unlikely to see my workmates again".

Whittall delivered the news to family in person. One of the first men who came up to him was a father and he gave him a big hug and said he did ''everything he could".

''It was hard. They've looked to me for hope...

"I've got a lot of respect for the families I've been working with for the last five days. They've been very supportive of us. We've tried to be as supportive of them as we could. They've got a terrible, terrible thing to deal with now.

"As you can imagine, they are absolutely devastated by the news. They've all held out hope that it was their son or their husband or their brother that would be the lucky one, they've all held that hope out, but I have to say that probably all are feeling that that hope is now gone."

They will continue to monitor gas to see if they can re-enter the mine.

''We've still got 29 men in there and we've got to get them out.''

THE VICTIMS

Conrad John Adams, Malcolm Campbell, Glen Peter Cruse, Allan John Dixon, Zen Wodin Drew, Christopher Peter Duggan, Joseph Ray Dunbar, John Leonard Hale, Daniel Thomas Herk, David Mark Hoggart, Richard Bennett Holling, Andrew David Hurren, Jacobus (Koos) Albertus Jonker, William John Joynson, Riki Steve Keane, Terry David Kitchin, Samuel Peter Mackie, Francis Skiddy Marden, Michael Nolan Hanmer Monk, Stuart Gilbert Mudge, Kane Barry Nieper, Peter O'Neill, Milton John Osborne, Brendan John Palmer, Benjamin David Rockhouse, Peter James Rodger, Blair David Sims, Joshua Adam Ufer, Keith Thomas Valli.

» Click here for profiles of the miners

SECOND EXPLOSION

Whittall said large volumes of smoke came out from underground about 2.45pm.  

He said the blast was larger than the first explosion. "It was not what I wanted to see."

It was very unlikely there could be any survivors, he said.

No rescue measures caused the explosion, he said. ''It came from somewhere up in the mine.''

Investigation head Superintendent Gary Knowles said the large explosion happened at 2.37pm.

They were now going into recovery mode.

It was one of the most horrific things he has had to deal with as a policeman.

"We had to break the news to the family and they are extremely distraught.

"I was at the mine myself when the explosion occurred. The blast was horrific. Just as severe as the first blast - and we are now moving into a recovery mode."

SPECIAL INQUIRY

Chief coroner Judge Neil McLean today announced he would open a special inquiry into the Pike River coalmine deaths.

McLean is in Auckland today for a conference of coroners from around Asia and the Pacific.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad tonight defended the rescue operation, saying criticism of Superintendent Gary Knowles, who headed it, was completely unjustified.

Broad said Knowles had led "an extremely professional and thoroughly detailed operation''.

"Superintendant Gary Knowles has had an extraordinarily difficult role, one of the most challenging police roles that I've seen encountered in my entire career.''

POLITICAL RESPONSE

Key expected a series of inquiries, including from police and the Labour Department, on top of a commission of inquiry.

He said Parliament would be suspended as a mark of respect for the "national tragedy" and flags would fly at half mast on Government buildings.

"After days of waiting ... they have been delivered the cruellest news.

"Like every New Zealander I hoped for that miracle in my heart of hearts."

Key will travel to Greymouth tomorrow morning.

Labour leader Phil Goff earlier called for Parliament to be suspended out of respect for the loss of life.

He expressed his "heartfelt sympathy" at the loss of life.

"This is a devastating shock for the families and the entire community. I want to extend my support and sympathy to those caught up in this terrible tragedy," Goff said.

"We know that Coasters are brave and resilient and will band together as they work through this terrible time. But the community should know that the entire country will be mourning alongside them."

He will travel to Greymouth tomorrow, as planned.

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