Mine boss: Families realise bodies may not be retrieved

07:08, Nov 30 2010
BURNING: Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River Mine on Monday.
BURNING: Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River Mine on Monday.
Pike River mine
AT WORK: Rescue crew working on the gag machine at the access portal area of the Pike River mine.
GAG machine
Mine rescue crew working on the GAG machine, used to extract gases, near the Pike River mine access portal.
PREPARING FOR RECOVERY: A container sticking out of the access portal to partially block it as rescue workers build up other material around it.
PREPARING FOR RECOVERY: A container sticking out of the access portal to partially block it as rescue workers build up other material around it.
PLATFORM: The men were thought to be in the area of the second drilling platform.
PLATFORM: The men were thought to be in the area of the second drilling platform.
FIRE: Smoke rises from a ventilation shaft at the Pike River mine.
FIRE: Smoke rises from a ventilation shaft at the Pike River mine.
Pike River mine
SCENE: Aerial view following the fourth explosion at the Pike River mine.
Pike River Coal, mine
Aerial view over the surrounding valley following the fourth explosion at the Pike River mine.
GAG unit
The 'GAG unit' - a modified jet engine used to neutralise gases in the Pike River mine, in operation on Thursday.
GAG unit
The 'GAG unit' - a modified jet engine used to neutralise gases in the Pike River mine, in operation on Thursday.
GAG unit
The 'GAG unit' - a modified jet engine used to neutralise gases in the Pike River mine, in operation on Thursday.

The Pike River miners' families have started to accept they may never get their remains back, Pike River boss Peter Whittall says.

Whittall said at a press conference this afternoon he had no idea what condition the 29 men's bodies would be in as they were potentially located 500 metres from the fire.

He said some families had accepted their loved ones may not be returned.

BURNING: Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River Mine on Monday.
BURNING: Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River Mine on Monday. The fire is now said to have reduced.

"Some people still have hopes of tappng on a pipe but largely there is resignation to total loss of life and resignation for some that they may not get their family back as they want."

Whittall said there were still flames coming up out of a ventilation shaft and loose coal was definitely burning. The coal seam was also probably on fire.

He said the GAG unit, which could not be used today after foam used to seal the mine caught fire, should be  running tomorrow morning but that it may take weeks to make the mine safe for recovery teams to enter.

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The machine, a jet engine which uses water vapour, has been brought from Australia to try and put out the coal fire.

The foam fire was not linked to the coal burning in the mine - it was not uncommon for it to catch alight when large amounts were used, Whittall said.

He was focused on getting into the mine but knew it might have to be closed.

Whittall said many staff were worried about employment, but it was difficult to see what would happen from here.

Management at the mine had met with contractors and were doing a commercial review.

Superintendent Gary Knowles, who has been overseeing the operation, had planned to brief journalists at 1pm. However, this was cancelled without reason.

The Press