Experts has said it could take weeks or months before the bodies of the victims of New Zealand’s mining disaster were recovered.
Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall said the company was determined to recover the remains of 29 men, including two Britons, who were declared dead after two explosions deep underground.
But there are still very high levels of potentially explosive gases in the mine that have made it too dangerous for anyone to enter since the first blast last Friday.
Whittall said various options were being considered to make the mine safe but it could take weeks.
Prime minister John Key said it was possible the operation could take months.
Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, Fife, were among the missing miners.
Recovery teams were prevented from entering the mine by high levels of potentially explosive methane and other toxic gases blamed for two huge blasts inside the Pike River Coal mine.
The first explosion last Friday left the 29 men missing up to one and a half miles underground and officials insisted there was hope for them. But after yesterday’s second blast, police and mine chiefs said no-one could have survived.
New Zealand’s mining industry is small and generally considered safe. The tragedy deeply shocked the country and devastated families who – buoyed by the survival tale of Chile’s 33 buried miners – had clung to hope that their relatives could emerge alive.
Whittall said mine operators were determined to bring out the men’s bodies, but testing showed gas levels surged again soon after yesterday’s explosion and that another explosion was possible.
Methane is currently leaking from the coal seam and a smouldering fire somewhere in the mine is producing other toxic gas and a potential ignition source, officials say.
Experts were planning on expelling oxygen from the mine that could fuel a further explosion. One option was to pump inert gas into the mine to push the oxygen out, another was to seal the mine up to stifle any burning then enter when it was safe, Whittall said.
Key said previous experience overseas suggested the operation could take months.