Efforts to rescue 29 men trapped in a New Zealand coal mine received a setback this morning when a remote-operated robot broke down shortly after being sent into the tunnel.
In a blow to rescue hopes, Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the robot had short-circuited shortly after entering the Pike River mine.
“We’ve had a kick in the guts. The robot went in the tunnel, it got water in it and short-circuited. It’s history,” he said after emerging from a meeting with rescue coordinators.
Police Superintendent Gary Knowles said the robot would no longer be used, but rescue authorities were trying to source a replacement from the United States or Western Australia.
“This is a very serious situation and the longer it goes on, hopes fade. We have to be realistic,” he said.
“We are not able to go underground until the environment is safe.
“As soon as we are able to deploy assets from the US or Australia [we will be able to go ahead].”
The 29 men, including two Australians, have been missing since an underground explosion at the Pike River mine, near Greymouth on the South Island, on Friday.
The two Australians men are William Joynson, 49, and Joshua Ufer, 25, both from Queensland.
Supt Knowles said drilling of a bore hole to reach the mine shaft continued overnight.
Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said the bore hole was at 142 metres this morning.
He said crews had to stop and change drill bits overnight after running into very hard rock.
But he said drilling had since recommenced and it was estimated it would take another five hours before the hole was completed.
The head of NZ Mines Rescue, Trevor Watts, said crews were enduring “heart-wrenching” frustration at not being able to deploy underground.
“The conditions that our rescue personnel are going to face are potentially going to be hostile,” he added.
Laurie Drew, the father of one of the miners, says the lack of information is making life difficult for the families of the trapped men.
“Everybody’s frustrated, everybody’s upset,” he said.
“They’re all hurting as much as I do. I had my moments. I can keep it together but deep down it’s still heart’s bleeding like everybody else.
“We’ve got faith that they’re going to come out safe but it’s just how long it’s going to take to find out for sure what’s going on down there.”